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Why Chile is on the boil and had to call off global trade and climate summits

After violent clashes between police & protesters in Santiago, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has said Chile won't host upcoming APEC & COP25 summits.

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New Delhi: Chile has announced that it will no longer host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, in which the US and China were expected to sign a trade deal, amid raging protests that have gripped the country. The South American nation has also cancelled the COP25 international gathering on climate change that was scheduled to take place in December this year.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera made the announcements in capital city Santiago Wednesday as nationwide protests against income inequality continued unabated.

While the APEC summit was scheduled to take place on 16-17 November, the United Nations COP25 climate meeting was due to be held between 2 and 13 December.

ThePrint takes a look at why Chileans are up in arms and the significance of these two global summits.

Protests triggered by hike in metro fare

The demonstrations were first triggered by a rise in metro train fare at Santiago city but protesters soon expressed their discontent over a wide range of other issues such as inequality, high healthcare expenditure and increased cost of living.

Reacting to the fare hike — which was later suspended — people vandalised public property and pulled emergency brakes of metros in Santiago. On 19 October, a state of emergency was subsequently declared in the capital city for 15 days.

Protests at Plaza Baquedano in Santiago, Chile | Commons
Protests at Plaza Baquedano in Santiago, Chile | Commons

The protests later spread to other cities such as Concepción, San Antonio, and Valparaíso and 18 people have died so far in violent clashes between the police and demonstrators.

Of all the issues, however, a staggering inequality in the country has been the primary source of discontent among Chileans. At present, only 1 per cent of Chile’s population possesses close to 33 per cent of the country’s wealth, which makes it the most unequal nation in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development group.

Cristian Quiroga, a 43-year-old television camera assistant, said, “They make deals made for the copper, the water, the lithium, the ocean — everything is up for sale and flogged off for a pittance to other countries. And none of the cash comes down to us.”

Some of the agitators are even demanding a new Constitution for the country and have called for economic and political reforms.

“I want change and I want it now. The cost of living keeps rising and our money is badly distributed — in pensions, in healthcare and in education. There is privilege for armed forces, the priests, the politicians, the corporations. And to change that? You have to change the constitution…I’m doing this for my granddaughter who is six months old,” a report in quoted Juan Angel, a 60-year-old school teacher, as saying.

The demonstrators have also claimed that the current Constitution, written in 1980 during the rule of August Pinochet, has facilitated for a market-driven economy that has privatised healthcare and education.

“As a student it’s very expensive to live here in Santiago. I am fighting for a better education that costs less, a subway fare that is fair, and a life with more dignity. Because what we earn now is not enough to survive on. I want to become [economically] independent but I can’t – life it is just too expensive,” said Germán Zeta, an 18-year-old student.

President Pinera, in the meanwhile, has only asked for forgiveness from the citizens and promised a 20 per cent increase in government-subsidized pensions, new health-insurance programs, cancellation of the electricity price hike and a guaranteed minimum monthly income of $483.

Also read: Iraq to Chile, protests across the globe have one thing in common

APEC Trade Summit

At the APEC summit, President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping were expected to sign a deal to end their 15-month-long trade war that has hurt the global economy. While the Trump administration was “caught up surprise” at Chile’s cancellation, it still expects to sign a trade deal with China soon.

The last time that Chile had hosted an APEC summit was in 2004.

Established in 1989, the APEC is an inter-governmental forum of 21 countries to promote free trade in the Asia-Pacific region. Its member nations include, among others, US, China, Thailand, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Australia and Russia.

This year’s APEC summit was to be the first for Peru, Vietnam, Mexico and Papua New Guinea which have joined the forum only recently.

COP25 summit

In the United Nations COP25 climate summit, 190 nations are scheduled to get together to discuss ways of reducing global emissions in order to meet the 2016 Paris agreement. This treaty had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and aimed at keeping a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This is the first time that a nation has pulled out of hosting a climate change summit at such a short notice. After making his announcement, Pinera had, on 22 October, said: “This has been a very difficult decision, a decision that causes us a lot of pain, because we fully understand the importance of APEC and COP25 for Chile and for the world.”

The Chilean president has fired nearly half his cabinet — including his finance, interior and economy ministers — to quell the protests.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who had travelled across the Americas to attend the event, has posted a tweet saying her thoughts were with the people of Chile.

Following the Chilean government’s withdrawal, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa had also released a statement saying it was exploring alternative options of hosting the event.

Also read: President Trump says US has reached ‘very substantial’ trade deal with China


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