Economic Protests Are Spreading Across The Globe. Here’s Where And Why.

Topline: Many of the mass protests happening around the world were sparked by anger over the economy—especially rising inequality and high costs of living—and then quickly evolved into larger, more potent social movements. 

  • Chile has been roiled in widespread unrest since mid-October, where a small protest over a hike in subway fares started by a handful of students has since exploded into a full-grown uprising with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets to protest long-festering issues of economic inequality and calling for a new constitution.
  • Colombia saw one of its biggest anti-government protests in recent memory, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in November to protest economic inequality and call for anti-corruption measures.
  • Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has seen more than a month of crises as protesters angry over corruption, inflation, misappropriation of social development funds and scarcity of goods are demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise.
  • Indonesia passed a new law in September that significantly weakened an anti-corruption commission, resulting in thousands taking to the streets and clashing with police
  • Iran, under the weight of U.S. sanctions, saw gasoline prices surge up to 50% in mid-November, which sparked large-scale protests that have transformed into demonstrations against government corruption, with thousands clashing with authorities and hundreds dead.
  • Iraq, for example, is yet another country engulfed by waves of demonstrations since October, as citizen protests over unemployment and corruption have escalated to calls for a new government.
  • Lebanon has been roiled by widespread protests since last month: The government initially proposed new taxes on messaging services like WhatsApp, and combined with an unpopular austerity budget, plus a government many viewed to be corrupt, the situation has escalated to the boiling point.

Crucial quote: “Every country experiencing protests and unrest at the moment has unique triggers and circumstances, both political and economic,” says Michael Monderer, senior global economic analyst at Stratfor. “What could be said generally is that complaints that would normally be tolerated—petty corruption, wealth and income disparities—have greater visibility and stoke more resentment when things are not going well for everyone.”

Tangent: Perhaps the most famous ongoing protests are in Hong Kong. While not a country, the province has seen six months of clashes between police and protesters demanding democratic rights like universal suffrage. Concerns over democracy have fueled other protests: In Bolivia, for instance, a hotly disputed election led to numerous and escalating riots amid accusations of voter fraud; in Venezuela, months of riots have followed calls for President Maduro’s resignation, which has brought the struggling country to the verge of economic collapse. Political and economic demonstrations are even ongoing in some places in Europe: in France, with the Yellow Vest protests, and in Spain, with demonstrations for Catalonian independence.

What to watch for: Protesters around the world have increasingly clashed with security forces: Police have been brought in to control demonstrators in many countries, while some have even called in the army. Death tolls have been recorded everywhere from Haiti and Hong Kong to Chile and Bolivia. So far, widespread protests haven’t met with much success, with positive developments in Algeria and Sudan remaining the exception, giving hope to other dissidents around the world.

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