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Piñera overhauls Chile cabinet after violent protests

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Via Financial Times

Chile’s president has brought a string of new ministers into his government as he responds to mass protests over inequality in one of Latin America’s richest countries.

President Sebastián Piñera’s cabinet reshuffle follows the lifting of curfews and a state of emergency at the weekend. It is the biggest set of changes in Mr Piñera’s centre-right administration since he was re-elected in 2017.

They include the appointment of Ignacio Briones, a centrist with an academic background, as finance minister. Mr Briones will be charged with responding to protesters’ demands by making Chile’s economy more equal — most likely by raising taxes for the rich without damaging economic growth, which has disappointed in recent years.

Mr Piñera, a billionaire former businessman, also appointed Gonzalo Blumel, 41, as interior minister, moving him from the secretary to the presidency, Mr Blumel was seen as having succeeded in projecting a more modern and moderate image than his predecessor as the crisis deteriorated last week.

At least 19 deaths have been reports in violent protests that erupted 10 days ago and have since swelled into mass demonstrations. On Friday, an estimated 1.2m people in Santiago joined what was considered the largest demonstration in Chile’s history, while at least 2m of the country’s 18m population are estimated to have joined marches nationwide.

Mr Piñera and his leading ministers — including the outgoing finance and interior ministers, Felipe Larraín and Andrés Chadwick respectively — have been criticised for a poor and insensitive initial response to the crisis.

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The president’s approval ratings have plummeted to 14 per cent, the lowest of any Chile president since the return of democracy in 1990. Public anger was increased by his decision to send in the army to control the protests and his statement that the government was “at war with a powerful and implacable enemy”, given that the majority of demonstrators were peaceful.

Mr Piñera’s ratings reached a previous low of 23 per cent during student protests in his first presidency from 2010 to 2014.

Normality is gradually returning to the country, with public transport services being reinstated after the unrest that began as a protest over a 3 per cent rise in metro fares.

In addition to the departure of Mr Larraín and Mr Chadwick — both also ministers in Mr Piñera’s first government — another longtime collaborator, Cecilia Pérez, was replaced as government spokesperson by Karla Rubilar, the 42-year-old mayor of the metropolitan region of Santiago, who was one of the few officials regarded as having reacted well to the crisis.

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