By Mohsin Abbas / The Santiago Times Staff
SANTIAGO – Tens of thousands of Chileans on Sunday took part in rallies and marches across the country to demand an end to the private pension system, imposed on workers in 1981 during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
Thousands of people marched in different cities including the capital city of Santiago, despite heavy rains.
The new national march – “No+AFP” – calls for the termination of the current pension system which forces workers to deposit a portion of their wages into funds that deliver paltry pensions upon retirement.
Claudio Orrego, mayor of the suburb of Peñalolén, stressed the peaceful nature of the previous marches and hoped that this is not the exception.
“We hope in this large protest to express exactly, with a majority viewpoint, that we workers will not rest until this cursed system that condemns our parents, our grandparents to miserable pensions is ended,” Luis Mesina, spokesperosn of the movement No + AFP told Reuters.
Mapuche flags were also very obvious during the march in Santiago. A large number of people, out against human rights violations, were carrying Mapuche flags and banners with messages for indigenous rights.
“We are specifically calling for an end to the AFP systems,” Chilean worker Elena Dettoni told Reuters. “We don’t want AFP, nor a private system, or a state one, but a system of dignity, of supportive distribution of our pensions fund.”
Protest organisers said a total of more than 2 million people had joined marches in most Chilean cities, and that 800,000 people took part in Santiago alone.
Chilean police put the number of demonstrators in the capital at 50,000.
More than 500 people marched through the main streets of Punta Arenas, according to estimates of Carabineros and social leaders.
About 3,000 people left to march under heavy rain in Concepción, capital of Biobío region, and ended with an event under a downpour in Independence Square.
“The government has a profound difference with the social movement,” said Jorge Sharp, Mayor of Chilean port city of Valparaiso, where nearly 10,000 people participated in the march.
They were joined by Beatriz Sánchez, front-runner of Frente Amplio, citizen groups and many families.
“This is an expression that Chile has definitely awoken and will not stop until we are finished with the AFP system,” said Luis Mesina, a spokesperson for the organizers, referring to the system’s Spanish acronym.
“Once again the social movement ‘No+AFP’ shows in the streets that this demand is still more and more in force,” she added.
Sunday’s rallies and marches were the follow-up of last year’s massive shows when more than 70,000 people took to the streets to demand an end to the pension system that forces workers to deposit a portion of their wages, plus an administrative fee, into accounts managed by private funds, which are supposed to be reinvested in the economy.
The pension funds, which vary according to market conditions, have suffered a hit with the recent slowdown in the Chilean economy. Many workers ultimately retire with a pension that pays less than the minimum wage.
Last year, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet announced that her administration would work on a reform but, later on, the government abandoned its proposal to create a state-backed public-private pension system.
The organizers of national protest are now frustrated with the lack of progress from the government on the issue.