international affairs

Everything You Need to Know About the Global Protest Wave

Protesters in Beirut. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Popular protest movements have swept the globe this month, with anti-government demonstrators taking to the streets in Chile, Lebanon, Iraq, Hong Kong, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, and Spain. Millions of people around the world have participated in demonstrations, and hundreds have been killed. In some nations, victories have been won. In others, they seem elusive.

Here’s what’s going on in:


A demonstrator waves a Chilean flag during a protest against President Sebastián Piñera. Photo: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

A 4 percent increase in the price for a ride on the Santiago subway has launched massive protests across Chile, leaving 19 people dead.

The protests began with a call for high-school students to evade the new subway fare. It didn’t take long for Santiago to devolve into chaos, with looting, arson, and then the cancellation of the fare increase. As protesters surged into the streets across the country of 18 million, the focus turned to more than the subway-price hike. Protesters are also angry about wealth inequality, pensions, expensive health care, and government corruption.

The unrest led this week to the cancellation of two international summits scheduled for Chile. Instead, President Sebastián Piñera said, the country needs to “prioritize re-establishing public order.”


The protests that have gripped Lebanon for the past two weeks officially began on October 17, after the government announced a new tax on internet services such as WhatsApp. But the roots of the unrest run much deeper. Young people in Lebanon are angry at the ruling class, and its rampant corruption and mismanagement of the country’s economy. They’re tired of pollution and an unreliable power supply in a nation where wages are stagnant and unemployment is high. So they’ve united, casting aside sectarian divisions to demand wholesale political change.

The protestors won a big victory Tuesday, when Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation, but as one told AFP, their fight is not over. “This resignation is welcome but it is not enough,” Tima Samir said. “We want the entire system to change and we’ll stay on the streets until all our demands are met.”


An Iraqi protester in Baghdad. Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images

The revolt in Iraq has came in two waves. The first started early this month after a call went out over social media to gather in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to protest government corruption and the lack of economic opportunity in the oil-rich nation. The government was taken aback by the size of the protest and responded with heavy-handed force, which drew out more protestors. The demonstrations quickly subsided once it became clear that protestors would be killed without impunity.

After a couple weeks off though, young people returned to the streets. In Baghdad and in southern Iraq, they protested the Iraqi government and Iranian influence. With the renewed protests came the renewed killing of demonstrators. According to the AP, a total of 240 people have been killed since the protests began.

Hong Kong

Pro-democracy protests began earlier this year in Hong Kong when demonstrators took to the streets over an extradition proposal from mainland China. When Hong Kong dug in and refused to withdraw the bill, protests grew. And by the time the government relented in September and squashed the extradition proposal, the protests had grown to encompass additional demands, which were summed by the New York Times with two words: more democracy. Beijing doesn’t seem very receptive to that demand though and on Thursday ominously announced vague new plans to quell the protests.


The apparent reelection of Bolivian president Evo Morales to a fourth term in office has led to accusations of election fraud and mass protests in Bolivia. Protestors object to the vote-counting process, which appeared to be leading to a December runoff between Morales and his primary opponent, but eventually gave the incumbent enough votes to avoid facing another election. Now, Morales supporters are clashing with the opposition as the nation awaits the results of an international election audit.


Earlier this month, protests erupted in Ecuador in response to an austerity package that included the end of fuel subsidies. Weeks of unrest followed, leading Ecuadorian president Lenín Moreno to cut a deal with indigenous leaders canceling the austerity measures.


For weeks, anti-government protests have gripped Haiti, where frustrated demonstrators are demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse. The impoverished nation has been pushed even deeper into crisis during the ongoing clash between the government and protestors. According to the New York Times last week, “Unrest around Haiti, coupled with rampant corruption and economic malaise, have led to soaring prices, a disintegration of public services and a galloping sense of insecurity and lawlessness.”


In mid-October, Spain’s highest court sentenced nine Catalan leaders for between 9 and 13 years for their roles in a 2017 independence referendum. Thousands of their supporters responded by taking to the streets in protest and they’ve rarely left since. A general strike took place on October 18 and police and protesters have increasingly met in violent clashes. The protests are continuing, with a separatist demonstration drawing 350,000 to Barcelona’s streets last weekend. It was followed by a unity demonstration that brought out 80,000.

Everything You Need to Know About the Global Protest Wave