On December 10, 2019, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted the event “Upheavals in Chile & Bolivia” featuring panelists Roberto Laserna, president of the Fundación Milenio and director of CERES; Fernando Molina, Bolivian author and journalist; and Lucía Dammert, associate professor at Universidad de Santiago de Chile. The event was moderated by Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Shifter began by remarking on regional trends of inequality, low levels of health and education, and an overall sense of frustration and unmet expectations that has led to a season of unrest in the region. He noted that the purpose of the event was to avoid some of the dangers of generalizing and to look at the cases of Chile and Bolivia individually to get a better sense of what is spurring the unique situations in these two countries.
The discussion began on the topic of Chile, Dammert noted that no one knows exactly what caused the explosion of social unrest on October 18. She added that various factors contributed to the situation, including social discontent from the population towards the political and business elite. Dammert noted that there are almost two Chiles today—one comprised of Chileans over 30 and the other comprised of those 30 and under, who are much more willing to criticize/make social demands and have a distinct way of conducting politics which has shown itself in the street protests.
On the topic of Bolivia, Laserna noted that despite political uncertainty and fears, he views the current moment in Bolivia with some optimism as it represents the Bolivian democratic system opening up once more. He believes there is a chance for a new era in Bolivia with greater freedom and respect for the law. He added that although the Bolivian economy is weak, what brought about Evo’s resignation was not economic concerns but concerns about ethics.
Molina, in contrast, was a bit more pessimistic on the situation in Bolivia. He noted that the racial and class divides in the current political discourse are quite troubling. The social movements that followed the Bolivian election, while aiming to be inclusive, were comprised of primarily individuals from urban, middle-class backgrounds. He commented that the political discourse in the country is marked by sharp divides and there are highly concerning issues of hate and division within in the country.
The theme of polarization was not limited to conversation on Bolivia. Dammert remarked that Chile is also experiencing polarization, and there are genuine concerns that the Chile of today will become even more polarized. She also mentioned the concerning trend of an increased willingness to rely on violence in order to evoke political change.
During the Q&A portion of the program, questions from the audience touched upon racial divides in Bolivia, the role of violence in Chile’s street protests, and concerns about how to ensure a more democratic and inclusive future in Bolivia.