From Lebanon to Chile, economic uncertainty is driving a wave of protests

JUDY WOODRUFF: Across the world, in dozens
of countries, protesters have taken to the streets. The demands in each country may be unique,
but demonstrators are united in desperation with economic disparity and unrealized expectations. We begin in Lebanon, where, as special correspondent
Jane Ferguson reports, anger at the government crosses religious and political divides. JANE FERGUSON: In Lebanon, defying religious
divisions is a revolutionary act in and of itself. This protest movement, less than 10 days’
old, aims to overcome decades of deep sectarianism that have led to a corrupt government and
devastating economic crisis. Corruption and bad leadership have made Lebanon
the second most indebted country in the world. It may default on its debts if it doesn’t
balance its annual budget. The government has tried to claw its way out
of the financial disaster by promising reforms, but demanding more taxes. These people have had enough. ABDUL, Engineering Student: I am an engineering
student. Here, there’s nothing for sure. You have to fight. You have to. It’s not easy. JANE FERGUSON: This group of young men are
angry that there’s no future here. ESSAM, Protester: The level of unemployed
is very high. There is a large brain drain in this country. People graduate and then they try their best
to leave because there’s no opportunities for young men and women. JANE FERGUSON: Lebanon’s political system
is based on the country’s sectarian divisions, with top government posts being shared out
between Sunni Muslims, Shia, Druze, and Christians. It is designed to keep the peace, but leads
to constant deadlock and corruption. Those sectarian leaders, in place since the
15-year civil war ended in 1990, have become entrenched. All sides exploit sectarian fears to shore
up their positions and stay in power, where they enrich themselves. Sami Nader is an economist who has been predicting
these protests for months. SAMI NADER, Economist: There is no separation
between business and politics. And the politician either is doing business
directly or, now, if it’s so obvious, he has around him circles who get big contracts. It’s the case in the electricity sector. It’s the case in the waste sectors, and the
case in the telecom sectors. JANE FERGUSON: A State Department official
voiced American support for the protesters, telling Saudi channel Al-Arabiya the people
of Lebanon are rightly frustrated with their government’s inability to prioritize reform. These protests have shaken the country’s political
elite, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri appearing on television four days ago to offer the protesters
reforms. SAAD HARIRI, Lebanese Prime Minister (through
translator): These decisions are not for bartering. They are not to ask you to stop protesting
or expressing anger. This is something that you decide. And we are not giving you a deadline, and
I will not allow anyone to threaten or intimidate you. JANE FERGUSON: The protesters rejected his
offer, and instead demanded all political leaders resign. Hariri is a Sunni Muslim, but his rival, Hassan
Nasrallah, from the Shia Hezbollah movement, is also rattled by the protests. Hezbollah is not just a military force here,
but a political one, too. Just as he was due to speak in a televised
address today, several hundred of Nasrallah’s supporters arrived at the protests, bringing
loudspeakers to blast his words over the sounds of the protesters calling for his resignation. HASSAN NASRALLAH, Hezbollah Leader (through
translator): We are scared for the country. We are scared that there might be someone
who wants to take Lebanon and create social, security and political tensions that would
lead to civil war. JANE FERGUSON: Nasrallah, whose movement is
largely funded and supported by Iran, also claimed the protest movement was an international
conspiracy. HASSAN NASRALLAH (through translator): Information
and data that we got from different sources show that now the situation in Lebanon has
entered the target of political instrumentalization internationally and regionally that involves
internal actors. JANE FERGUSON: “All of you, all of you” has
become a common chant here, telling the Hezbollah supporters that their leader should step down
too. The riot police are separating the different
protesters. The main protest over here are those who are
calling for the fall of the government and all political elites. And just behind this thick layer of riot police
are Hezbollah supporters who have come down and caused quite a bit of tension here today. When we crossed the police line and headed
over to speak to them, they told us the protesters should go home. But the police eventually told them to move
on instead, and the angry crowd threw sticks and water bottles as they were shoved out
of the street. They put up some resistance to the police
before giving up and going home. The protesters know that sectarian leaders
will not surrender their grip on power here easily. You think the current system tries to divide
and rule? MAN: Exactly, because they are benefiting. There’s like the $100 billion they have stolen
from the country. JANE FERGUSON: As night comes, Beirut’s city
center reclaims the carnival atmosphere that has characterized these protests from the
beginning. Across the country, music and dancing have
been used by protesters to defy religious divisions and call for elites to step aside. Keeping their movement peaceful and united
will be just as great a challenge as creating real political change. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jane Ferguson
in Beirut, Lebanon. NICK SCHIFRIN: And I’m Nick Schifrin with
a look at protests 8,000 miles away in Chile. For the past week, Chileans have also filled
city streets to create a leaderless, spontaneous movement calling for fundamental reforms. Struggling to feed their families, pots become
instruments of frustration. They protest unaffordable health care, low
pensions, and what they describe as a government that’s lost legitimacy. SOFIA GUANCAUAVA, Protester (through translator):
This country is unjust. The price of gas and electricity go up, and
there is no respect for the people, only enriching business and the government. NICK SCHIFRIN: Chile has been one of Latin
America’s most stable countries, touted as a model of regional success. In the ’90s and 2000s, prosperity expanded. But it also has one of the world’s largest
wealth gaps. ARTURO VALENZUELA, Former Director, Georgetown
Latin American Studies Center: People who were very, very poor in the past, who could
not think about protesting, now have a whole host of rising expectations. And so it’s a crisis in the sense of rising
expectations that are not fulfilled on the part of many, many people. NICK SCHIFRIN: Arturo Valenzuela was the director
of Georgetown’s Latin American Studies Center and a former senior State Department official
who has tracked the country as it modernized and grew richer. ARTURO VALENZUELA: People then become much
more aware also of the enormous gaps between the people who are going to private schools,
the people who live in really well-off neighborhoods, and so on and so forth. And so the inequality issue — and, certainly,
Chile has become far more unequal. NICK SCHIFRIN: And this week, that feeling
of inequality exploded, not only into peaceful protests, but also deadly clashes between
government and the governed. At least 17 protesters have been killed, and
hundreds of police injured, in running battles that paralyzed the capital, Santiago. Billionaire President Sebastian Pinera announced
increased pensions and minimum wages, improved health care, and reversed the public transit
price hike that helps spark the protest. SEBASTIAN PINERA, Chilean President (through
translator): We have heard loud and clear the voice of the people, the voice of the
Chileans who have peacefully expressed their problems, their pains, their shortages, their
dreams, and their hopes for a better life. NICK SCHIFRIN: But he also deployed the military
that’s targeted protesters, and enforced a curfew with batons and smoke grenades. It’s the first time that’s happened since
the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, when 40,000 Chileans were killed, tortured
or imprisoned. And the fear is, some of those dark days are
returning. MAN: Here we are in militarized Santiago. NICK SCHIFRIN: On Monday, Miguel Sofia
filmed as 9,000 soldiers took over Santiago’s streets, and he talked to protesters unafraid
of violence or the curfew. WOMAN (through translator): The social discontent
is not just about the fare rides for the subway. The only thing the government does is criminalize
a situation that, in truth, they have dragged on for so long. Now the military are using the same strategy
they used during dictatorship, making fun of people and shooting people in many regions. NICK SCHIFRIN: Suddenly, an unmarked car screeched
toward them. MAN: Shooting, man. NICK SCHIFRIN: Sofia and reporter Jonathan
Franklin screamed that they were press. MAN: No! (SHOUTING) NICK SCHIFRIN: The car made a U-turn and fired
a few final shots. JONATHAN FRANKLIN, Journalist: Just came and
started shooting indiscriminately at people. We had to hide behind this tree — the bark
off here, the shotgun blast. You can see different pieces of the tree were
blown away. We were, fortunately, behind the tree, but
they were shooting at people. MAN: More coming, more coming. NICK SCHIFRIN: They could have been unmarked
police or provocateurs. But this kind of violence in Chile hasn’t
been seen in decades, and it’s not going to stop. MAN (through translator): I’m not in favor
of violence at all. In fact, I have never liked it, but I think
it is the only way that they will listen to us. ARTURO VALENZUELA: Many citizens are probably
going to say, well, look, we need to take care of the violent elements right here. But, on the other hand, it’s quite clear that
there is an opening right here for significant abuses of human rights on the part of the
authorities, when a protest is repressed in that way. NICK SCHIFRIN: The U.N. vows to investigate
reports of human rights violations. And protesters say the government’s concessions
are too little, too late. That’s the same message from many protesters
around the world, not only in Chile and Lebanon, but also in Iraq, in Haiti, and in Ecuador. All these protests have local causes and local
politics, but they’re all organized online, and protesters object to widespread economic
disparity and increase, but unrealized expectations. And the underlying problems they demand fixed
are not easy for any government to deliver. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Nick Schifrin.

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