At the end of 2019, young Chileans took to the streets for several days and fought vehemently, despite the strong crackdown on rifles.
In various Latin American countries, social protests intensified which, although framed by specific demands, shared a deep dissatisfaction with the order of things.
Most of them were led by non-traditional social sectors: young people from popular urban areas and the middle class in Chile, or the indigenous movement in Ecuador.
In Chile, the reason for the claims was fatigue with the unjust economic system maintained since Pinochetism and with a social model structured around the commercialization of all social benefits.
In Ecuador, the protest was articulated against the adjustment plan of the Lenín Moreno government at the request of a credit negotiation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
These two explosions are not the only ones.
In Peru, there have been protests against a corrupt political system – especially the legislature – with mutual vetoes and serving the interests of the political class.
In Argentina, organizations of the unemployed and precarious workers protested against the Macri government for the worsening of its already unfavorable economic situation.
Conflicts also erupted in Colombia, following the peace accords, and in Bolivia, due to the failure of the electoral process and the departure of Evo Morales from the country.
The fatigue of Latin American society
In addition to the differences, the truth is that all of these conflicts had some common characteristics. From protests against the status quo or the rejection of very unequal social matrices to the hatred of business and the enrichment of the elites, and their isolation from society.
The demonstrators also had certain characteristics in common: young people belonging to the middle and popular sectors excluded from the formal economy and subjected to continuous repression by the security forces.
In addition to the cyclical and structural problems of the region – economic crisis, unemployment, informality, poverty, exclusion – the various conflicts have raised all these questions, but have not solved any.
It all boiled down to a manifestation of fatigue with the functioning of social life. The problem was the system as it was instituted. Not just a part of it, but the whole.
The health isolation resulting from the pandemic put the reasons for the social protest on hold, but did not stifle them.
Despite the fact that Western rationality leads us to always have definite timelines, the pandemic continues, and it’s unclear how it will continue.
This lack of certainty meant that while Covid-19 was not extinguished, people took to the streets again.
The protests picked up where they left off and, since the end of 2020, cities and public spaces in different countries in the region have once again staged expressions of discontent. Expression covered in large doses of anger, hatred and, consequently, violence.
With this new emergence of social protest, repression and death are also flourishing. For example, the recent murder of the juggler in Chile.
Dissatisfaction that even the pandemic has not eclipsed
Throughout 2019, certain events related to previous protests acted as buffers for the disruptive and anti-systemic potential of collective action. Events that arose in response to conflicts before the pandemic.
In Chile, the call to vote for a Constituent Assembly to reform the Constitution inherited from Pinochetism calmed the central groups leading the conflict.
So much so that the vote for the Constituent Assembly, widely accepted, was read by the demonstrators as a balm to dilute the protest.
However, despite their support for the Constituent Assembly, these groups were absolutely skeptical that the new Constitution would change the status quo.
In Ecuador, the October 2019 demonstration involved the reversal of Lenín Moreno’s adjustment program and the impending February 2021 elections generated a real expectation of political change.
In Argentina, the pandemic began with the return of a Peronist government and expectations for change, coupled with a call for “social patience” derived from the health context.
In Peru, the change of government promoted by Congress triggered the violent rejection of part of the citizenship, to the point of causing the resignation of the president by the Parliament. The success of the protest, like a struggle with parliamentary power, and the more consensual appointment of a new president, calmed the spirits.
And in Bolivia, the overwhelming triumph of MAS overturned all movement in the most reactionary sectors and raised expectations for change in the country, symbolized by the return of Evo Morales from his exile.
The political landscape of the region, shaken by strong and violent protests before the pandemic, seems to have regained some calm due to the eruption of the coronavirus crisis.
However, if one understands the mobilizations as a rejection of social structures and the results of current economic and political institutions, it is difficult to think that the protests will not be repeated.
The events that have calmed the waters will not be enough to guarantee order if the economic and institutional structure that reproduces societies with strong pockets of poverty and exclusion is not altered.
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima