Politics, The World

Chile’s street art sparks the beginning of constitutional change

If the magnitude of the student protests and the creativity of political street art are any suggestion, this year's Chilean protests will have an immense impact on future policy.

It took fewer than 24 hours in Santiago, Chile for me to stumble upon my first protest. I had been wandering through downtown, just across the street from the Universidad Cátolica, when I heard the shouts of a marcha. When I came face-to-face with the protest, I found hundreds of students marching with banners calling for universal free education. That protest would be far from the last one I spotted over the next three months.

As I quickly learned, Chilean students and activists are calling for changes to their country’s constitution. Chile’s current constitution was written in 1980, and while that might not sound terribly old, it happens to be from the era of the country’s dictatorship.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet rewrote the country’s constitution during his regime, changing social and economic policies. Though recent Chilean politicians have promised to update the constitution, it’s a slow process. So, Chileans have taken to the streets with marches and banners exclaiming their needs and protesting for change.

Here are three of the top issues Chileans are hoping to see change in a new constitution, told through pieces of street art!

1. Education

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Property of the author

Lo que el pueblo necesita es educación gratuita [What the people need is free education].”

Out of all the protests currently happening in Chile, non-Chileans are most likely to be familiar with the student movement. These protests broke international news headlines this year and back in 2011 due to their size and occasional violence.

Current president Michelle Bachelet campaigned on a platform of reforming the Chilean constitution, but has yet to implement major changes (though this is her second term in office). Students have asked for higher quality education, better financial aid, the end of subcontracting staff positions, and eventually free education for everyone.

Since their demands haven’t been answered, students have organized strikes, skipping entire months of school in protest, and marches, taking to the streets in the hundreds.

2. Abortion

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Property of the author

Un aborto feminista es un aborto seguro [A feminist abortion is a safe abortion].”

Aborta al sistema, uteros libres! [Abort the system, free uteruses!]”

During his final year in power, Pinochet rewrote Chile’s longstanding abortion laws to criminalize abortion in the country. President Bachelet recently introduced a bill into the Chilean congress to allow abortion in three cases: rape, maternal health risk, or fetal unviability.

For many, this is a step in the right direction, but for some it’s not enough. Feminist collectives, like the one that created this protest banners, are fighting for legal abortion in all cases. One of their main goals right now is to increase access to abortion medications that women can use at home.

3. Retirement

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No más AFP [No more AFP].”

The AFP system (Administradoras de Fondos de Pensiones), like many social systems in Chile, also came into effect under the Pinochet constitution. In 1980, José Piñera of the Pinochet dictatorship changed the country’s retirement system from a PAYGO-system (using currently available funds rather than borrowing) to the AFP system.

AFP stood out from previous policies because it put private-sector pensions in control of all of the country’s retirement funds.

The current Chilean government has begun to reform this system. As it was, the AFP system had high administrative costs and failed to cover the entire Chilean populace. So, in 2008, President Bachelet’s government started the reform under the leadership of Andrés Velasco. As the government continues to change the retirement system, the hope is that even the poorest Chileans will receive coverage and a chance at a retirement plan.

If the magnitude of the student protests and the creativity of political street art are any suggestion, this year’s Chilean protests will have an immense impact on future policy. As a country with a long history of activism, Chile could quickly transform from post-dictatorship recovery to democratic power.