OPINION: Inequality isn’t just about subway fare

A hand holds up a burning ticket.
Graphic by Anaga Srinivas

“We are subjugated by the rich. It’s time for that to end,” a Chilean protester told The Guardian. Tens of thousands of Chileans have been protesting after a 3 percent hike in subway fares, but this isn’t the only reason protests are happening in the streets of Chile and across the globe.

Protests have exploded across Chile, Haiti and Iraq in response to decades of neoliberal policies that have benefited the upper classes but abandoned the majority of civilians. Neoliberalism is a modified form of liberalism with an emphasis on free-market capitalism, according to The Guardian.

These policies have resulted in greater inequality and predominantly benefit the upper classes. Wealth in these countries is concentrated in a small percentage of the ruling class and many fundamental social services are not properly funded. 

These protests aren’t a one-time event or a response to an isolated incident. They’re a response to injustice and inequality. 

In Chile, the market-driven economic model developed under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship has contributed to the country’s extreme wealth disparity — 33 percent of the nation’s wealth is concentrated in the top 1 percent of the population, according to The Guardian

Pensions, health and education in Chile are all privatized. Not to mention, pensions are measly, and the quality of education and healthcare varies greatly based on your economic status. The tax system doesn’t properly tax the wealthy, leaving less money for vital social services. The doctrine of neoliberalism in Chile has undermined democracy and damaged millions of lives. 

In Haiti, alleged corruption and massive misappropriation of government funds have contributed to the high rates of poverty and food and water scarcity in Haiti, according to The Guardian. Protesters have been demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on charges of corruption. The island received millions of dollars in aid since the 2010 earthquake, yet infrastructure is still weak, and there’s a lack of public services, according to The Washington Post.

“There’s not just a political fight going on today … Haiti is facing a broad rejection of a political and economic system that in 30 years has failed to deliver results for the majority of the population,” said Jake Johnston, an international research associate on Haiti from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The protests in Haiti have brought people together across gender, age and profession. Thousands of people are participating in the protests, and the government is reacting violently, leaving more than 18 people killed and 189 injured, according to the National Human Rights Defense Network. 

In Iraq, high unemployment, poor basic services and state corruption have led to an explosion of protests across the country, according to CNN. The government refuses to listen to its people and has tried to repress these protests with military violence. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights estimates that the clashes have left 15,000 protestors injured and 301 dead, according to The Independent.

The prevalence of capitalist policies and corruption across these countries has left millions scrambling to make ends meet and without basic needs such as food, healthcare, education and housing met. This is not an issue just affecting individual countries — it’s happening worldwide. The working class of these countries has been abandoned by their governments.

Systematic change needs to occur to provide social services and lessen the massive inequality in these countries. A country’s economic growth doesn’t mean anything if there aren’t tangible effects for its people. 

Chile has experienced constant economic growth, according to the World Bank, yet money isn’t being allocated to fund public health services, education or pensions. This is absurd given that the upper classes hold large amounts of wealth and have low taxation rates. 

These protests have resulted in the unification of people across religion and ethnicity against the systems that have failed them and need to be taken seriously.

In addition to systematic change, we need to show support to the protestors through advocacy, donations and more to see change become a reality. 

This is not a moment; it’s a movement occurring across the globe.  

Anais Rivero PZ ’22 is from Miami, Florida and interested in politics and Latin American studies. She would love to talk to you about how Latin America has suffered due to the International Monetary Fund and neoliberalism.

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