Chile police use tear gas, water cannon to disperse protesters
Chilean police have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of demonstrators protesting against the country’s privatized pension system.
Angry demonstrators set fire to at least two buses, forcing their passengers to flee, while blocking over 20 streets with burning barricades in the capital Santiago on Friday.
They disrupted the morning commute in the capital by attacking buses with Molotov cocktails.
According to the Interior Ministry, around 10,000 people rallied in the capital while some 58,000 others staged similar demonstrations elsewhere in the country. Reports say at least 68 protesters were arrested during the clashes.
A parallel strike by public sector workers demanding a raise helped the pension demonstrators exert more pressure on center-left President Michelle Bachelet. They later convened at the Plaza de Armas, a central square in the capital.
The protesters are calling for reforms in the Pension Fund Administrators (AFP), saying the system does not guarantee a dignified old age and only perpetuates inequality.
They argue the system has left some 10 million Chilean registrants with disgraceful retirement benefits, quite short of the AFP’s initial promise of 70 percent of workers’ last paychecks. The average pension is less than the minimum salary in the country.
Many Chilean workers are not able to pay the required retirement fee, because their salaries are not increased annually to meet inflation.
Chilean workers have held numerous protests against the pension system. One of the country’s largest demonstrations in recent years drew some half a million people in August.
Chile’s pension system, created in 1981, is run by six private pension fund administrators which manage some $160 billion in assets.
Back in August, Bachelet offered a plan to raise the pension contribution rate by five percentage points. That would cost about $3.8 billion a year, with the state paying $1.5 billion. She also said she would continue to push for the creation of a public pension fund to give workers an alternative to the current private system.
Bachelet, Chile’s first female president, won her second term in 2013, vowing to bring about deep reforms, but her popularity has since begun to diminish amid a corruption scandal involving her son.