The ideology of the “Chicago Boys” is facing its moment of truth in Latin America. This week, the Chilean government’s attempt to impose a fare hike for public transportation in the capital resulted in a full-fledged rebellion. Led by high school students, the protesters obtained support and encouragement from the entire working class.
The Chicago Boys is a nickname for Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago in the 1970s. Milton Friedman was the leading professor there. He, his team and the Chicago Boys proposed unfettered capitalism as the model of “development” for Chile, and anywhere else they could impose it.
What that really meant was restructuring the Chilean economy to eliminate social programs and whatever might allow some of the wealth produced by the workers to be used for their benefit. It meant privatizing every government sector in order to turn it into a profit center for the rich — including education, health care, public transportation, even the water supply. They would have privatized air if they could have figured out how to charge for the oxygen.
It also meant using the state to break or at least weaken workers’ organizations. Since only the working class produces wealth, what that really meant was using the armed state to increase the rate of theft from the workers — i.e., the rate of exploitation.
For the Chicago Boys, the pro-fascist military dictatorship in Chile from 1973-90 was their model experiment. The Augusto Pinochet regime had already crushed the workers’ organizations with brutal force. It was a success! The gross national product grew — with all the growth going to a handful of rich capitalists.
Even after the Pinochet era ended and governments were once again elected in Chile, this alleged economic success increased unemployment, cut workers’ wages and pillaged the Indigenous population, while leaving many retired workers on the edge of hunger.
The current president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, a favorite of Washington and the International Monetary Fund, proposed a modest increase in subway fares. That turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. High school youth decided to evade the fares and did it massively. Piñera treated them like criminals, calling out the police, declaring a state of emergency, launching tear gas, beating and arresting them. When the young people fought back, some destruction in subway stations brought the city to a near halt.
An article from a Chilean progressive, published on rebellion.org on Oct. 21, described the mood: “It is true that despite the inconvenience caused during these days to users — closed doors in the metros, closed stations, police presence at ticket offices, longer journeys — in the street what one can see most is support for young people. This apparent contradiction is simple: For the vast majority of those who use the metro, the protests are not only logical, but legitimate.”
The protest turned from one against a fare hike to a general protest against the rampant inequality in Chilean society, an inequality imposed through the ideology of the Chicago Boys, which is really the ideology of unfettered world imperialism. Piñera has rescinded the fare hike — but this may turn out to be too little, too late.
When Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno made a similar attempt, in his case to raise gasoline prices, hundreds of thousands of people, led by the Indigenous population, walked out in a massive general strike. Moreno had to rescind his decree, which had been ordered by the International Monetary Fund.
In Argentina, across the Andes mountains from Chile, an Oct. 27 national election is expected to evict the neoliberal Mauricio Macri from the presidency.
These struggles are far from won by the masses of people in these South American countries. But, in all of them, the people are saying “enough” to rampant inequality.