Chileans march to demand end to privatized pension system

Protesters march through central Santiago, Chile to express opposition to the current pension system -- criticised because of low returns to pensioners

Thousands of people marched in major cities in Chile Sunday to demand an end to a privatized pension system put in place more than 35 years ago under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Banging drums and carrying signs and banners, protesters marched through central Santiago to express opposition to the pension system, known by its Spanish acronym as AFP.

"We are going to put an end to the AFP, like it or not," said Luis Mesina, coordinator of the protest movement and leader of the peaceful march in Santiago.

Protesters also staged massive demonstrations in the cities of Valparaiso, Concepcion and Valdivia.

The system, which manages $170 billion in funds, has come under fire because of low returns to pensioners, who had been led to expect annual payments amounting to 70 percent of their last salary.

It was created in 1981 by neo-liberal economists influenced by the University of Chicago's Milton Friedman.

Known as the "Chicago Boys," they replaced a government funded pay-as-you-go system with one in which workers and their employers paid a proportion of their earnings into privately-run pension funds.

The system has been widely imitated, but has fallen out of favor with many Chileans scraping to get by on meager benefits.

President Michelle Bachelet in August 2016 announced plans to reform the system, but has held off submitting it to Congress while she struggles to reach a consensus on the changes.

Paula Narvaez, a spokeswoman for the president, said Bachelet will reach a decision on the reforms within a month.

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