EnCompass Chile 2019: Challenges Facing Chile

March 15, 2019
James Geraghty

“You came to see the future of the end of the world,” remarked Dr. Luna of Universidad Católica at the end of his presentation.

Today, alongside Chilean students, we heard three lectures from Dr. Pribble of the University of Richmond, Dr. Rosenblatt of Universidad Diego Portales and Dr. Luna of Universidad Católica. This semester, we have become familiar with the topics presented and have read numerous works by each respective professor in Dr. Pribble’s Politics of Latin America class. Not every student has the opportunity to meet the experts behind the works they study, so we were grateful to participate. After the professors shared their abridged research on contemporary Chilean politics, they opened the class to discussion.

What followed was a further analysis of the challenges facing Chile and the rest of the world. Specifically, we addressed the issue of uprooted democracies, where vertical accountability (meeting the needs of the people) is weak and has allowed outsiders to rise to power, most notably Trump and Bolsonaro of Brazil. Furthermore, we addressed the incorporation crisis Chile is facing today, as well as high structural inequality, lack of party identity and the overconcentration of power. Ultimately, I left the lecture with a profoundly different idea of the current level of democracy in Chile. I found my preconceived notions about Chile’s economic and political development, which I fostered from behind the confines of a desk, inconsistent with the full reality here. While my studies provided me the tools to understand the story, I was not prepared for the full narrative that contradicted many of my ideas.

Following the lecture, we had lunch with the professors and their students. My conversation with a Chilean student over Peruvian cuisine was the most engaging and inspiring conversation I have ever had. I was inspired by his passion and bravery to speak his mind about the flaws in Chile’s democracy. We discussed inclusion, social policy, trade, defense, dictatorship legacies, comparative politics, potential democratic solutions and our future goals to name a few things. He was a leader of the student protest movement, which we are studying in class, as well as a former employee of a political party we have analyzed. Members of his family were tortured and held in a detention center during the Pinochet years before he was born. He also does work with Londres 38, a former detention center we visited yesterday. He shared his unhappiness with Chile’s current state, saying the government is completely elite driven and does not express the voice of the people. He expressed his disapproval with the lack of policy response to massive protests that have been ongoing since 2011 and acknowledged the solutions to their problems may not be democratic. He was disappointed in his country and its history, a history that continues to repeat itself. His ideas would seem radical to most in the U.S., but I found them to be thought-provoking, offering a counter narrative to the story I have curated in my mind based on my studies and few days here.

I now find myself facing an internal dilemma regarding my perception of Latin American politics, specifically the case of Chile. On one side, there is a story where democracy is cherished by Chileans who survived a dictatorship and are grateful for the success of neoliberalism on overall economic development, while the other side unapologetically says they are no longer afraid of oppression, despise inequality and are open to alternative forms of government because this one does not adequately address their needs. I find myself questioning the theories on economic and political development I have learned since there is massive discontent here, however, I am also trying to evaluate that while inequality has increased, overall development, health and education has significantly improved in Chile compared to its neighbors.

During our daily debrief, I shared my uneasiness with my group, who have become my close friends, and they expressed similar thoughts. The notion that democracy may not be a solution, as posited by our colleagues, both fascinated and frightened me. I left grateful for the uniqueness of the US system, based on its history and federal structure, which deconcentrates power. I also left with a sense of inspiration and urgency. Optimism has always fueled radical change and what type of student would I be if I did not believe every crisis has a solution. Chile needs to reinvent its democracy to incorporate more of its population, while sustaining strong institutions. A difficult challenge without a doubt, but if I learned anything from my fellow Chilean students, and now friends, it is that there is no shortage of passion or knowledge here. The difficulty lies in uniting under a common goal to address the injustices most prevalent in Chile and the rest of the world. Hopefully, my group and I can come back to campus and share some of the passion our experiences have ignited inside of us to serve as a catalyst for other students to stand up for and fight for what they believe in.

 - James Geraghty

EnCompass is a pilot program of the Office of International Education that is designed to increase study abroad access for populations of students who may be reluctant to take on international travel or whose academic requirements make study abroad difficult.