By Dave Sherwood
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – President Sebastian Pinera readied a cabinet reshuffle Monday morning, as Chileans angry at inequality called for more demonstrations this week in the biggest political crisis since the country’s return to democracy in 1990.
The president was considering sacking his embattled interior minister, Andres Chadwick, and his finance minister, Felipe Larrain, according to a document obtained by Reuters and a news report in Chilean daily La Tercera.
Several lists of potential replacements were circulating among politicians and social groups after Pinera announced the shake-up on Saturday. Announcements were expected before the day’s end.
Chile, the world’s top copper producer, has long boasted one of Latin America’s most prosperous and stable economies, with low levels of poverty and unemployment. But entrenched inequality and spiralling costs of living have been problems.
A week ago, small protests over a recent hike in subway fares quickly boiled over into riots. Seventeen people have died and there have been more than 7,000 arrests and upwards of $1.4 billion in business losses.
Similar scenes have played out around the world in recent months, with demonstrators from Hong Kong to Beirut to Barcelona angry at ruling elites.
On Friday, a million Chileans marched through downtown Santiago demanding a change to the country’s social and economic model.
Pinera, a billionaire businessman, has promised higher taxes on the rich to help boost the minimum wage and pensions, lower the prices of medicines and assure proper health insurance.
But a Cadem poll published on Sunday found 80% of Chileans did not find his proposals adequate. On social media, Chileans were calling for more protests on Tuesday at the La Moneda presidential palace.
On the streets of Santiago Monday morning, many returned to school or work to find traffic jams, a hobbed metro, graffiti and trash and broken glass littering streets from days of riots.
Jorge Sepulveda, a 33-year old truck driver, said the continuing unrest had hurt his bottom line.
“I don’t dispute that people have the right to protest, but this is beginning to affect us all,” he said as he smoked a cigarette on a street corner downtown. But, he said, Pinera’s announcements had yet to satisfy him.
“He needs to listen to the people,” Sepulveda said. “This isn’t over yet.”
Support for Pinera has plunged to just 14%, the lowest approval rating for a Chilean president since the country’s return to democracy three decades ago.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, additional reporting by Aislinn Laing and Natalia Ramos; Editing by David Gregorio)