Chile: Activists Fear Setbacks Under Rightwing Government By Pamela Sepúlveda (IPS) – Trade unions and non-governmental organisations in Chile are worried that rightwing billionaire Sebastián Piñera’s election as president will mean setbacks in terms of social policy and respect for labour and social rights.
Statements by the conservative president-elect, who triumphed in the Jan. 17 runoff vote, with regard to overhauling state-owned enterprises to boost efficiency and adopting policies aimed at increasing economic growth, sparked concern among the labour movement, environmentalists, indigenous peoples’ associations and other social organisations.
His campaign pledges also worried the centre-left “Concertación” or Coalition for Democracy, which lost its hold on power for the first time in 20 years.
To judge by the Harvard-educated airline magnate’s pro-business campaign platform, strikes, protests and social tension will increase over the next five years, Álvaro Ramis, president of the Chilean Association of NGOs (ACCION), told IPS.
Especially given the fact that part of the Chilean right still identifies with the 1973-1990 de facto regime of late dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who died in 2006. Some 3,000 people were killed or forcibly disappeared and nearly 30,000 were tortured under the dictatorship.
“I believe there is an emotional aspect (in the NGOs’ concerns), awakened, for example, by seeing ‘Pinochetistas’ in Piñera’s rallies justifying and legitimising human rights abuses,” said Ramis.
There are fears that such influences and the president-elect’s neoliberal positions will lead to a major conservative shift in policy direction in areas like education, health, labour, the environment and women’s and indigenous rights, which in Ramis’s view would bring increased social unrest.
Activists say one of the most vulnerable areas is labour. Trade unionists are concerned that the future administration will not only turn a deaf ear towards workers’ demands, but could even roll back acquired rights.