Chile: Poverty rate down since 2009

Government survey shows drop in poverty; Congress rejects report on university profiteering; Kidnapping case shocks Chileans.


Poverty levels down since 2009

This week the government released the results of the National Survey of Socioeconomic Wellbeing (Encuesta de Caracterización Socioeconómica Nacional—Casen), showing a drop in the poverty rate from 15.1% in 2009 to 14.4% in 2011. The number of Chileans living in extreme poverty fell from 620,000 in November 2009 to 472,000 in 2011, the lowest number in the history of the Casen survey.

The government said the results demonstrate the need to target the 472,000 remaining in extreme poverty in order to meet the government’s goal of reducing indigence to less than 1% of the population by the end of 2013.

Some members of the opposition questioned the reliability of the Casen results. Three former ministers from the government of ex-President Michelle Bachelet said they did not trust the Casen report to be objective.

In response to these claims, government spokesman Andrés Chadwick argued that critics were simply lashing out without evidence because “under the government of President Piñera we have reduced poverty more than in the government of Bachelet.”

Minister of Social Development Joaquín Lavin assured the press that “poverty and indigence fell using the same thermometer with which those ministers [who critiqued the recent report] measured poverty in their day.”

A representative of the social work organization Hogar de Cristo praised the government’s results but added that, “as long as we continue to understand poverty in solely monetary terms we will not be responding to the complex challenges it presents.”

Deputies reject accusations of university profiteering

On Thursday Chile’s Chamber of Deputies rejected the findings of a report on profiteering in higher education. The report named seven private universities, alleging that the directors of the universities had broken the Chilean law that prohibits making profit from providing educational services. The law against profit making in education was passed during the Pinochet dictatorship.

Deputy Alejandra Sepúlveda, president of the congressional commission that presented the report, said, “For the first time an organ of the state was going to recognize that there was profit in education, but it is a tremendous frustration that that was not achieved, and a bad signal to Chilean families.” Sepúlveda accused the government of President Piñera of pressuring deputies to reject the report.

June 28 saw the largest student protest in Chile’s history over accusations that universities were engaged in illegal profit seeking and misuse of public funds.

Noam Titelman, head of the Federation of Students of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (Federación de Estudiantes de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile—FEUC), assured reporters that the student movement would continue fighting for greater accountability in higher education: “We will continue mobilizing, convoking the citizenry and convincing them with our arguments and our ideas.”

On Saturday the executive board of the Federation of Chilean Students (Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile—Confech) met to discuss strategy in light of the rejection of the profiteering report. Gabriel Boric, the president of Confech, called Congress’s move “really pathetic” and said his advocacy group is discussing the possibility of further protests and demonstrations.

Woman simulates pregnancy, kidnapping

Following 24 hours of national anxiety and intense press coverage over the kidnapping of a young pregnant Chilean woman, the country was shocked to learn on Saturday that Nazareth Besoaín Videla had faked the entire affair.

Videla was thought to have been kidnapped as she drove to a hospital in Puente Alto to give birth. José Barrera, the woman’s partner, said he received a call from Nazareth saying she had given birth in the company of her kidnappers, three women and two men she said were from Perú.

Barrera said he began to fear for his partner when the taxi she was meant to be taking to the hospital never arrived. He accused a classmate of Nazareth’s, whom he says was threatening the couple, for the kidnapping.

However the case took a strange twist late Saturday evening when police found the young woman, only to discover that she had faked her pregnancy and orchestrated her own kidnapping.

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