Unionized workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine, the
world’s largest, will stage a 24 hours-long strike on Tuesday in solidarity with
ongoing massive protests sparked by a now suspended metro fare hike, as locals
vent their discontent over the high cost of living and extreme inequality in
one of Latin America’s most stable nations.
Union No.1, representing about 2,500 mineworkers, has called miners across the country to join the strike in order to “paralyze all mining in Chile, until military and oppressive forces are removed from the streets,” according to a statement published by local press.
The protests began last Monday when, alleging high
fuel prices and the devaluation of the peso, the government announced a 4%
increase in subway fares. After declaring a state of emergency due to the civil
unrest caused by the measure -which was also announced a few weeks after a 10%
hike in electricity bills was put in place- President Sebastián Piñera
suspended the fare hike on Saturday.
However, ongoing clashes between authorities and protesters have not stopped, resulting in at least eight deaths and hundreds of arrests, as well as looted supermarkets, burning buses and charred underground stations in capital Santiago and other major cities.
For the first time after the end of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s
regime in 1990, the current centre-right administration has called the military
onto the streets of Santiago on Monday, as it emerges from its third
consecutive night of a government-imposed curfew.
“We are at war with a powerful, relentless enemy that
respects nothing or anyone and is willing to use violence and crime without any
limits,” the president, Sebastián Piñera, said on Sunday in televised, yet
unscheduled speech from the military headquarters.
Political scientist Guillermo Holzmann, at the
University of Valparaíso, blamed “an accumulation of factors” for the protests:
frustration over the economy, the rising price of water, electricity and
transportation, all this worsened by an increase in crime and corruption.
“People feel the state is inefficient, it doesn’t protect
them, and the market abuses them,” he said. “The metro fare was the last
“This was an economic pressure cooker that’s been building for decades, and it exploded,” Rodrigo Booth, a professor at the University of Chile, told The Washington Post. “This had little to do with public transit. It became a situation about brutal inequality.”
Escondida, majority owned by the world’s largest mining company BHP (ASX, NYSE: BHP), produced 1,242,687 tonnes of copper last year, a 34% increase over 2017, when it was it by a 44-day strike, the longest private-sector mining strike in the South American country’s history.
Chile is the world’s biggest copper producer, and sales of
the metal make up for about 60% its export earnings.