Chile has been in a state of protest and civil unrest since 14 October. The initial student protests were against an increase in the price of public transport have turned into protests by the general population in Santiago and beyond against the entire socio-economic and political system. Revd Laurence Graham of the Methodist Church in Ireland, arrived into Santiago on the day the protests began to participate in the churches roundtable meeting.

As it turned out, civil unrest started in Santiago around the same time as I left home in Ireland!   I knew nothing about it until meeting with the folks at the airport in Chile.   It began after the announcement of a price rise in metro fares, but quickly it developed and grew as a vehicle for expression for the majority of Chilean people who struggle to make enough to live on. Chile is one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America with a growing economy but it also has a very wide income gap.   Many ordinary people work in jobs that are very badly paid and yet because of the economic growth prices here are higher than in many other Latin American countries.

 The protests have been largely dominated by young people. The older people in Chile commented that the young people have no fear of the army because they don’t know how this could end.   It is almost 30 years since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship and so there’s a whole generation that do not know what that was like.   This also explains why when the military went onto the streets on Friday 18th October to quell the protests it in fact greatly fanned the flame of anger.   This was the first time that the army were on the streets of Santiago since the fall of Pinochet, almost 30 years.

 The outbreak of violent protest on Friday the 18th October was very sudden and completely unexpected.   The Church Leaders said they never saw this coming.   However, to quote the Methodist Bishop of Chile, Jorge Merino, in one sense it “started 20 years ago.”   By this he meant that tensions and pressures have been building over many years.  

 The first places to be set on fire were some of the Metro stations.   This was as a reaction to the price rise (which has since been reversed) because people with low wage jobs couldn’t face any further expense in trying to get to work. Supermarkets were the next to be attacked.   Again this was a reaction to high prices and the cost of living.   In particular the ‘Leader’ chain was targeted because it is owned by Walmart who are well-known for paying very low wages. The hatred of the army also stems from the fact that senior figures are believed to have embezzled funds which should have been used for health, education etc.   In particular the public health services in Chile are in a real crisis and almost coming to a standstill for lack of funds.”

 The Methodist Church in Chile has been active in calling its communities to encourage dialogue on the Chilean reality and social context. It says that “the church cannot stay silent but it must work for social justice that will lead to peace”. The church has joined forces with other denominations through the Chilean Council of Historical Churches to ask the government to find solutions that will fundamentally benefit Chilean society as a whole.

 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 NRSV).


A prayer for Chile.

God of peace and of justice,

We hold before you our brothers and sisters in Chile.

We hold before you the nationwide protests.

We hold before you the cry of Chileans for a more just social, economic and political system.

 We pray for the Chilean government to make decisions that benefit the population and not just a few elite.

 We pray that the changes that need to be made will improve the quality of life for all Chileans, and not exacerbate income inequality and poverty.

 We pray that protests will be peaceful and that the government and military will allow Chileans to exercise their freedom of expression and right to protest.

 We pray that you will turn the hearts of Chile’s leaders towards the people, and that they will act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God as they seek to root out corruption and change the structures and systems that are keeping Chileans from living an abundant life.

 In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.