While many Americans may look down on South America and think of it as the land from which most of our immigrants come, that’s not reality. For one thing, most of the illegal immigrants to the US are coming from Central America, not South America. South American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile are multicultural melting pots very similar to the US, only that they speak Spanish and not English.
South American countries gained their independence from Spain not long after the US got its independence from Great Britain. And their history throughout the 19th and 20th centuries was very similar to the US in that they saw significant amounts of immigration from Europe. Immigrants from Italy, Germany, Ireland, and other countries traveled to South American in huge waves, with many South Americans in those countries still retaining the last names from their ancestors’ countries of origin. Travelers to Buenos Aires, Montevideo, or Santiago often express admiration for the cosmopolitan and European feel of those cities. And that’s what makes what’s happening in South American today so frightening.
We’re all familiar with happened in Argentina nearly two decades ago when the country defaulted on its debt. The one-time jewel of South America declined into misery, with robberies and kidnappings in abundance. The country still hasn’t fully recovered from that event, as no government has been able to keep the country’s central bank in check.
Now Chile is experiencing significant amounts of unrest, with over three weeks of violence racking Santiago. The precipitating event was a 3% rise in fares for public transportation, but the protest over that action brought to the surface a whole host of grievances. Unions are striking, the Chilean peso is plummeting in value, and the country is in crisis.
It’s not too much of a stretch to say that something similar could happen here. Crises like this always seem to come out of the blue, no one expects them. But they’re not sudden, they’re the result of deep-seated resentment that is finally bubbling to the surface. It’s not hard to imagine that the next financial crisis, which will likely be worse than 2008, could see a militarized Occupy Wall Street movement that will take to the streets in a violent manner. We may look at what’s happening in Chile today and shake our heads, but if we’re not careful that could be us in a few years.