There is a very high chance that every person reading this has already heard about the sensational Protest against the Chinese extradition bill in Hong Kong. However, what if I told you there is a current protest that is even larger and more influential than the one in Hong Kong, that is taking place even closer to us? The location of this protest: the Latin American country of Chile.
According to reports from both America’s CNN and China’s CCTV, the Hong Kong protest has seen the activity of anywhere from 380,000 to 800,000 people at a time. This is in stark contrast to the 1.2 million people who have flooded into the streets of Santiago Chile to protest the poor living conditions of Chile’s working classes ( Foreign policy.com, Jimmy Langman). However, a search for “Hong Kong protests” on October 25, 2019, elicits 282 responses in the last month in the New York Times, compared to 20 results for “Chile protests,” (The Revolution Isn’t Being Televised, Alan MacLeod). Why are the Hong Kong Protests getting so much more attention from Western media outlets as opposed to the Chilean protests?
To answer that question, we must first understand the economic ideas of Neoliberalism. In short, Neoliberalism is a form of economics that stands in opposition to the traditional Keynesian idea that the Free market must be stimulated by government spending and social programs. Instead, Neoliberal economists, such as Milton Freedman, argued/argue that an economy based upon privatization and austerity would/will be most successful in providing economic growth. These policies were first popularized in the Western world by American President Ronald Reagan and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, but the real testing ground for Neoliberalism was Augusto Pinochet’s Chile.
Who was Augusto Pinochet? Augusto Pinochet was a Chilean general who in 1974 overthrew the Democratically elected Marxist president Salvador Allende, with backing from the Nixon administration and the CIA. From 1974 to 1989, Pinochet and his military generals ruled Chile as one of the worst of the Fascist Banana republics in Latin America, where the Chilean government had, “systematic use of torture against Chileans through its network of approximately 1200 torture centers” (The Chile Reader: History, Culture, Politics, Elizabeth Quay Hutchison, Thomas Miller Klubock, Nara B. Milanich, Peter Winn). This horrific time period still haunts Chileans to this day, and the Authoritarian measures put in place by the 1980 Chilean Constitution are one of the main causes of the protests. This exposes one of the first reasons for the lack of American coverage of these protests: they were caused by the actions of Augusto Pinochet, a man the U.S. put in power. This, however, is not the only reason for the radio silence in regards to the Chilean protests.
While in power, Pinochet looked to Neoliberal economist Milton Freedman and his “Chicago boys” (A group of conservative economists trained at the University of Chicago) for help in growing the Chilean economy. Freedman recommended to the dictator that he privatize everything in sight, including the lucrative state copper mines, and he cut social programs to let the free market and “invisible hand” work their magic. This Neoliberal policy backfired, causing many in Chile to slip into poverty as inequality skyrocketed and the economy stagnated. Pinochet eventually did re-nationalized the banks, an act which did increase the profits of Chilean capitalists, but the harm already was done to the working classes of Chile. Even worse still, the Constitution set up by Pinochet “…was highly ideological and aimed at perpetuating the economic and social model of the military regime” (Trying Democracy in the shadow of an authoritarian legacy, Javier Couso). Therefore, any Chilean politician that wished to implement any leftist or even Keynesian economic policy to alleviate the suffering of the Chilean people, was legally not allowed to. This has lead to a small group of Chilean businessmen and women becoming very rich under the Neoliberal system, while the majority of Chileans have had their social programs cut, rents raised, and wages lowered. For example, the average Chilean earns about 165,000 Chilean pesos a month or about 210 dollars (Informe de Desorollo Social 2019, Social Development report from Chilean government). To put that into perspective, for people living in Santiago who have to use the Metro every day to commute to and from work, they spend ¼ of that 210 dollars a month just on transit. Therefore, it makes sense that the catalyst for these protests was the rise in subway prices in Santiago.
Based on these figures, I would say that the main cause of the protests in Chile is the failings of Neoliberal economics. Therefore, it makes sense that Western media outlets would want to hide this from the public. Ever since the 1990s, almost every major political party in the Western world has put forth Neoliberalism as their party line, including self-described “left-wing” parties such as the American Democratic party, Canadian Liberal Party, and British Labour party. Thus, why would an American political establishment consisting almost entirely of supporters of Neoliberal policies, such as privatization and austerity, want the American people to know that over a million people are rising up against said economic system? Even worse, what if the Chileans succeed in overturning the remnants of Augusto Pinochet’s legacy, and Neoliberalism is replaced by a more equitable economic system? Maybe the American people would start getting some ideas?
In conclusion, the reason that the Hong Kong protests are receiving much more media coverage than the Chilean protests is because with the Hong Kong protests, it is very easy to see China as the aggressor, and China is our current greatest economic rival, so any news that hurts them will be spread far and wide throughout the U.S.. Whereas, in regards to the Chilean protests, the U.S. is the aggressor that installed a Fascist dictator, who while gone, still haunts the country to this day through his remaining socio-economic structure for the country.
Resource: “VisualPolitik EXPOSED: The Chile Protests and Pinochet’s Curse | BadEmpanada” on Youtube.com