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From the outside, Chile looked like a success — so what went wrong?

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Protesters have been taking to Chile's streets for weeks
Protesters have been taking to Chile's streets for weeks -
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REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza
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“It's like a little girl who looks very pretty from afar, but as you get closer you can see the wrinkles." This is the metaphor one political expert uses to describe Chile, a country once lauded as an example to follow in Latin America, but now deep in crisis.

Weeks of protests, growing ever more violent, have seen Sebastián Piñera's government forced to cancel one of the most important international events of the year, the COP25 climate summit, and to announce an agreement for a new constitution.

But despite promises to beef up pensions, the minimum wage and healthcare benefits, the protests have continued. Five weeks of unrest over inequality and shabby social services have left at least 26 dead and more than 13,500 injured, prosecutors said.

Unrealistic vision

While it has been an economic success in recent years, you have to look at things more closely, Marta Lagos, a political analyst and founding director of Latinobarómetro, explains to Euronews.

Chile is a country that looked good from the outside, but all Chileans knew this was an idealized and “absolutely unrealistic vision” she says.

The reason for this distortion, in her opinion, was the reliance on viewing the positive macroeconomic data that Chilean governments achieved - bird’s eye view economic data. "Chile is a champion of macroeconomics, but when you look at just one cause or variable, you're not looking at the others. Nobody looked at the rest of the country.”

"Fiscal equilibrium, inflation... are a series of indicators that are undoubtedly positive, but say nothing about people within a society," she adds.

"The problem in Chile is the poor distribution of wealth," says Lagos, who argues that it is not enough for a country just to grow: "It is how it grows, how that growth is balanced, and who receives the benefits of growth.”

Half the country hasn’t seen the benefit of that growth she says - which has led to protesters feeling like the have nothing to lose.

Parallels with protests in Europe?

A majority of demonstrators are from the working class, resembling the wave of protests that have hit much of the region this year, including in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia.

However Lagos distances this Latin American protest movement from what has been happening in Europe, with the gilets jaunes in France for example.

The difference being, she says, that Europeans are protesting the things they've lost, while Latin Americans are taking to the streets for the things they've never had.

"The expectation of social guarantees that democracy has never fulfilled” for Latin Americans are the driver there, whereas Europeans feel like they have lost those guarantees Lagos says.

Piñeira's promise of a change to the constitution has not calmed things down in the country. Despite being indispensable, it is not enough says Lagos.

"It requires more significant fiscal spending, tax reform to raise the money that needs to be used for the vulnerable classes and political reform," she concludes.

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