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Two-day strike takes off in Chile with Piñera increasingly debilitated

Wednesday, August 24th 2011 - 22:15 UTC
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Unions have joined students demanding a more open and accessible education system Unions have joined students demanding a more open and accessible education system

The Chilean capital Santiago was witnessing another tumultuous day on Wednesday as protests started to sweep the nation’s capital and unions called for a two day nationwide shutdown to protest the educational system.

The Unitary Central for Workers (CUT) has called for a “Paro Nacional” (national strike) for Wednesday and Thursday as many other unions vowed to join the strike.

Students and Unions called for constitutional changes of dictatorship old laws and regulations. Free quality education, pension reforms, new labour laws and system changes were amongst the claims of the demonstrators. Protesters barricaded roads and burned tires as the two-day national strike began against unpopular President Sebastian Piñera.

On the last two months mass demonstrations emerged in Santiago- along with other important Chilean cities – calling for improvements in Chile’s educational system. Demonstrations have drawn over 100,000 supporters to the streets of Chile’s capital.

One union official stated “this will be the biggest national strike of the last decade;” others have threatened to block roads (including those to the airport). Transportation workers and day-care providers also plan to strike, stranding millions of other Chileans.

While previous governments have faced one-day national strikes, it was the first 48-hour national strike since the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. Government spokesman Andres Chadwick said police defused some protests earlier in the day, and that beyond traffic disruptions, the situation was “normal.”

“We're all worried about the social climate,” said Finance Minister Felipe Larrain, calling the strike illegal and a threat to the economy. He said the government would not tolerate roadblocks.

“We want to be able to push ahead with our programs. ... Government programs are not created in the street but at the polls.” Larrain estimated the strike would cost Chile about 200 million dollars a day. “It's painful to see those working so hard to paralyze Chile,” Piñera complained on Tuesday.

Piñera, who took power a year and a half ago and appointed a Cabinet filled with technocrats, has alienated many Chileans with his policies. He is less than halfway through his four-year term. A major Cabinet reshuffle last month, the second since Piñera took power, failed to quell unrest.

The slump in Piñera's support is seen hindering him in Congress, and delaying the passage of capital market reforms aimed at turning Chile into a financial hub to rival Brazil.
 

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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