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Pinera losing Chilean middle class support

Oct. 4, 2012 at 6:33 AM   |   Comments

SANTIAGO, Chile, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Chilean President Sebastian Pinera is losing middle class support for his administration in a further setback after the government appeared to minimize the impact of student protests, business data and opinion polls cited in the media say.

The billionaire president, who rose to power in March 2010 on a promise of transporting Chile into the 21st century, has faced growing resistance from young Chileans angered by what they see as his inadequate and ineffective response to student demands.

Chile's market-oriented economy has moved from one growth milestone after another since the days of dictator Augusto Pinochet but it is now faulted for unbalanced economic development and neglect of whole sections of society.

Student protesters say too much emphasis on business orientation has spawned a commercially minded private education sector that works against their interests. The protesters want cheaper and more equitable education, which they say is biased toward the country's tiny rich minority.

Chronic unemployment also runs along class fault lines, with the poorest most likely to suffer deprivation from lack of jobs, underemployment and prejudice on ethnic or racial grounds.

Now the middle-income groups are also increasingly frustrated with the government, because of unfulfilled promises and alleged official failure to redress infrastructural problems in the way of economic and social reform.

Several key energy and mineral projects have failed to take off because of government inefficiencies or squabbles in Congress, critics say.

During the 2008-09 financial crisis Chile suffered because of its markets' close links with the rest of the global economy, which was cited as a strong point for its international standing. Chile still is the only Latin American member of the industrial world's Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Financial Times said Chile's reputation as an economic power house has taken a battering. The chief reason is a growing public discontent over income disparities and glaring inequalities in key sectors such as education.

Unlike many other OECD countries in which about 70 percent of education spending is publicly funded, in Chile about 15 percent is. The rest has to be paid for privately by students and their families, many of whom are relatively poor.

The last two years of student protests have centered on exorbitant fees and a financial system that drives pupils into heavy debt before they graduate.

Pinera, despite his business experience and personal wealth, has alienated supporters among Chile's wealthy and middle-income groups who see him as ineffective and lacking in political skills.

Pinera has tried several initiatives to calm student protests but each time has been faulted for lacking communication skills and for inability to engage with the disenchanted youth.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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