Chilean Presidential Address Plagued with Violent Protests

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President Michelle Bachelet’s state-of-the-union speech was interrupted over the weekend as protesters tossed bombs and damaged property, according to BBC. The public is in an uproar over the government’s failure to fix the economy, including a corruption scandal tarnishing Bachelet’s legacy. One security guard was killed during the violence.

Chile’s economy has seen some gains since 2013, but the populace has benefited little from the recovery. While investment has risen over the years, consumer spending lags, and unemployment remains above the norm.

Bachelet was reelected in 2013, but many are losing faith in her ability to address Chile’s downward trend, and experts do not foresee growth approaching anytime soon. Chile is a commodity-based country and a primary copper exporter on the world market, but lower commodity prices have hampered the economy.

Despite the setbacks, Chile is among the top-performing economies in South America.

Reform Measures

Bachelet got into office on a platform of improving the economy and providing free education. Education has been a contentious issue in Chile, with many students demanding additional public universities and an end to profit-driven schooling.

To the president’s credit, she achieved several legislative victories in the past year, such as increasing corporate tax rates to fund various social programs. She managed to reduce tuition for students, foster free healthcare access for the elderly, and implement social security reform.

Her administration, however, has failed to instill core policies that would secure greater growth, and her government lacks the resources to honor some of her campaign promises. With that, the president believes the economy is on the right track, but she claims her administration is unable to impose additional policies due to the dour state of the economy.

Many Chileans are not buying her explanation, however, especially as corruption erodes public trust.

Loss of Institutional Faith

Bachelet’s son, Sebastian Davalos, is accused of using his family’s political ties to attain a $10 million loan to rehab a property that produced millions of dollars within a short time-span, notes The Guardian. Davalos has maintained his innocence, and the president denies any knowledge of the real estate deal.

Despite her innocence claim, many voters no longer trust her, with a recent approval rating falling to 31% compared to 84% during her first-term, and her disapproval rating shot from 20% to 61% in a year. Her rivals in the rightist UDI party suffer from abysmal ratings as well, but the burden is on the establishment to quell rising anger through genuine reform efforts. Chile’s economy requires innovation and smart policies, but officials lack the political capital and time as public frustration reaches a boiling point.