SANTIAGO, Chile — Through the strong will of our people, we peacefully recovered our democracy 30 years ago and gave birth to a new and modern republic, founded on three basic tenets: a deep commitment to democracy and the rule of law, an open and competitive market economy, and a strong determination to defeat poverty and increase equality of opportunities.
The facts speak for themselves: Per capita income increased by a factor of five and Chile went from being sixth to first in per capita income and in the Human Development Index in Latin America. Poverty fell from nearly 69 percent to a promising 8.6 percent — eight million Chileans overcame poverty. From 1990 to 2015, the income of the poorest 10 percent of Chileans increased by 439 percent, while that of the top 10 percent grew by 208 percent. A strong and dynamic middle class emerged, and we set out to transform Chile into a developed country and eliminate poverty before the end of the coming decade.
Today income inequality in Chile is lower than the Latin American average. But we failed to sufficiently harness the power of growth to reduce the income gap. Many felt they were left behind, overrun by a legitimate sense of injustice that triggered a wave of street protests. To answer this call, we need to put into practice an aggressive social agenda, keep the economy growing and agree on a new constitution with broad and inclusive participation that reflects the values and principles that have forged our nation.
In recent weeks we have experienced a huge and unexpected outburst of violence, fires, riots, destruction and crime, which has caused a serious damage to the body and soul of Chile.
During these difficult and violent times, as we fought to restore public order and security, our government took all necessary measures and precautions to ensure the utmost respect for the human rights of all our citizens.
We applied the strictest rules with respect to the use of force, adopted a policy of full transparency in human rights information and strengthened the system of public defenders. There is evidence of abuses and excessive use of force, but we granted our autonomous National Human Rights Institute full access to perform its legal mandate in the protection of human rights. We invited both the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights and Human Rights Watch to observe the situation on the ground. Furthermore, we promoted and ensured the independence of public prosecutors to investigate any complaints, and of judicial courts to judge any abuses or crimes committed by military or police personnel.
In these difficult times our strongest ally was our democracy, our institutions and our rule of law, all of which remained intact and played an essential role during the emergency.
This widespread wave of violence and destruction was accompanied by something of a wholly different nature: The biggest social movement in our recent history came into being. Chileans of all ages and backgrounds legitimately protested against stark inequalities, low pensions, quality and cost of public services, and abuses in the provision of goods and services, coupled with other grievances that had been accumulating for decades. On one particular day more than one million people expressed themselves on the streets.
This social protest became a great opportunity to build a new future for Chile. It was the legitimate expression of a live and vital democracy. It gave us an opportunity to reconnect with our citizens and lead a new transition toward a more fair and egalitarian society, where progress and development are more inclusive and sustainable.
We now need a new vision, listening to our citizens and finding together the short- and long-term solutions that will cement the path to a more free, fair and prosperous society. To achieve this goal, we must act with a strong sense of unity, urgency and responsibility.
A country cannot develop if a significant part of its population is not able to participate in the generation and benefits of growth.
Our first step was to launch a social agenda with a set of very concrete measures that address some of the main day-to-day concerns of Chileans, giving relief and greater dignity to their livelihoods. This social agenda includes increasing pensions, raising the minimum income; better conditions for small and medium businesses; reducing the prices of medicines; more funding for the public health system; stabilizing the price of transportation, water, electricity and road tolls; increasing the taxes on the richest; and lowering the high salaries of members of congress and some officials in the public sector.
This agenda requires important public resources that we are financing with a tax reform and the necessary fiscal discipline.
We have no time to waste, because there will be no social justice without growth and development, and no growth and development without social justice.
Our second step has been to begin a national process of Citizens’ Dialogues, where the main concerns, demands and expectations of our compatriots can be expressed in spaces where no questions are off limits and Chileans are not afraid of discussions or debate.
But there is one indispensable condition: We cannot tolerate any form of violence or crime, nor any kind of human rights abuse. Otherwise, our democracy will fall apart. We must stop all violence, recover social peace and concentrate on the huge challenges and opportunities of the future.
In addition to recovering public order and social peace, and executing powerful social policies to defeat poverty, reduce excessive inequalities and create greater equality of opportunities, we need to forge in Chile a new social contract. That is why we have agreed on a road map that will allow us, for the first time in full democracy and with effective citizen participation, to agree on a constitution that provides us with a framework of unity, legitimacy and stability, one with which we can face the great challenges and opportunities of the future. After all, a divided house cannot prevail.
I am sure that Chileans will demonstrate once again the noble and caring soul of our country. Together we will build a country that is freer, fairer, more fraternal and more prosperous, a country we can call our common home, the house of all Chileans, where we can think differently but respect each other and together build a better future for all.
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