Sometimes the tiniest sparks can light the biggest fires. At least, that is the case in Chile where a 4 per cent fare hike in metro caused frustration that ignited mass protests on October 18. In Brazil, 2013, 20 percent bus fare increase caused unrest. In Hong Kong, it has been more than 100 days of protests being carried out against an unpopular bill. The causes of all these protests were mild but all these events served as a triggering event for the region’s citizens. The students in Santiago called for widespread protests against the increase. The turnstile-hopping rapidly caused chaos, riots, and lots of supermarkets closed their shops to participate in these massive protests. Due to the widespread protests in social media against the government, Chile’s centre-right president, Sebastian Pinera called for a state of emergency in midnight. These escalating protests caused the death of 19 students.
It’s impossible to assume that these mild causes triggered these widespread protests in Chile, Hong Kong or Brazil, but there are certain ingredients which elevated frustration. Globally, those ingredients are, shift towards populist governments, heightening economic inequality, and fast-paced changes in demographics. The protests in Chile are regarded as one of the worst since the end of dictatorship in the 1970s and ‘80s. According to the reports, it may have started with the fare hike, but quickly came to represent the growing chasm between the have and the have-nots.
Thomas Vicino, a professor of Political Science, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, says, “It was a modest increase, but it represents something much larger to middle-class Chileans who feel like they have been left behind in the global economy.” So, the main ingredient is increasing economic inequality. The gap between the rich and the middle-class people broadened up. Chile has the highest level of post-tax income inequality, according to data. These widening wealth gaps, combined with the country’s recent history have triggered this protest. With the help of social media and television, thousands of people came out in solidarity with the other protestors. It quickly became the middle-class movement, which represents something much larger.