Home Institution

Washington University in St. Louis

Publication Date

Spring 2020

Program Name

Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development


Chile has long been recognized in Latin America as an island of political and economic stability, but in October of 2019, a student-led mass evasion of the Santiago metro sparked what has since been coined the ‘estallido social,’ or ‘social explosion.’ Protestors across the country representing a wide range of social movements are demanding myriad reforms to what they deem a broken neoliberal system rooted in policies created during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Current president Sebastián Piñera’s government first responded by declaring a state of emergency. The state leveraged the power of a militarized police force (los Carabineros de Chile) to quell the uprising, but protestors continued to flood the streets until COVID-19 and related quarantine restrictions made such large-scale mobilization impossible. The pandemic transformed large gatherings into a significant public health hazard and postponed the constitutional plebiscite originally planned for April until the fall.

Even before the disruption of the pandemic, the estallido introduced a powerful challenge to Chile’s seemingly infallible reputation for stability and economic opportunity, a reputation that has attracted an increasing number of immigrants in the last two decades. Currently representing 23% of the immigrant population, Venezuelans make up the migrant majority in the country. They left a home country characterized by instability, insecurity, and lack of opportunities, where almost all citizens—regardless of what social class they used to belong to—struggle to afford basic necessities due in part to uncontrolled inflation.

This paper aims to analyze the experiences of young Venezuelans in the context of the estallido. Using the concepts of social and migratory imaginaries and theories of cognitive framing, it explores how the uprising has challenged immigrants’ expectations of life in Chile and how they have constructed interpretations of the events that have unfolded since October. The results suggest that, while many may oppose the use of political violence as a protest strategy, they tend support the movement’s demands. The estallido appears to have catalyzed cognitive reframing processes shaped by factors that go beyond political positioning, including the basic desire for stability and lived experiences with protests in Venezuela. Thus, this paper attempts to honor the complex, dynamic experiences of young Venezuelans in Chile and pave the way for future investigations that will continue to provide nuance to current and dominant immigration discourses.


Inequality and Stratification | International Economics | Latin American History | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Studies | Migration Studies | Politics and Social Change | Social Justice


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