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CHILE: THE NEOLIBERAL PARADISE ON FIRE

“Cuchara de palo frente a tus balazos

y al toque de queda… Cacerolazo”

(Ana Tijoux[1])

[1] Ana Tijoux é uma cantora franco-chilena conhecida por tratar de temas como pós-colonialismo, feminismo, ambientalismo e justiça social em suas letras. Fez essa música especialmente para os protestos recentes de 2019. Ver: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVaTuVNN7Zs

I arrived in Santiago on October 23, 2019, the morning on which the General Strike began, which was called after the protests that exploded spontaneously a few days earlier. The city still smelled of tear gas from the previous night’s fighting. The ashes of the barricades still closed many important avenues of the city, and the trine of the pots already announced the dawn. Despite the curfew and the repression, the young people did not leave the streets and the sound of the ‘cacerolas’ gave the rhythm of the combats, even discreet, inside the house as it was during the dictatorship.

I had already been to Santiago other times, but I will never forget the beats of the pots and clapping in the streets, the fire of the barricades, the smoke in the air, the smell of tear gas, the confrontations with “los pacos y los milicos”, talking walls full of powerful messages and the courage of that people who screamed that Chile woke up, facing a State of Emergency that prevented them from meeting, walking the streets. They gathered in parks and corners. Walking in the street was an act of rebellion, gathering when the law is to resign oneself, taking history into one’s own hands, when order is to take care of one’s own life. An unforgettable experience of days of insurrection. From now on, this is the image that my memory of Santiago, “la hermosa plaza liberada”, as Pablo Milanés sang, on the day of the biggest march in Chilean history.

Aware of my insufficiency in reporting such an important historical moment – after all, great passions and revolutions are indescribable -, among many interviews, demonstrations, and meetings I managed to capture some impressions that I strive to develop in this report. I hope it will be useful, especially for the active solidarity with the Chilean people and their struggle to defeat the neoliberal model and its lackeys in our Great Homeland. The Andean winds will sooner or later arrive here in the tropics. And the bullets that were thrown at us will return.

The paradise that is hell for the poor

Chile was the first country in the world to experience the bitter recipe of neoliberalism. It was not chosen democratically by its people, it was literally imposed by force. Even before Thatcher and Reagan, the bloody dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet after implantation through a coup d’état in 1973, overthrew the left-wing government of Salvador Allende and killed an entire generation of fighters. At the behest of imperialist interests, he began to implement a model in which any and all social rights were converted into mere merchandise.

The Chilean model constituted the privatized individual, being decorated by the apologists of capital as a Latin American paradise for their businesses. The “neoliberal oasis” of Latin America is a country in which the Chilean subsidiary state only grants scarce public rights to its citizens when and always itself grants more and more exemptions to big business. The Pension Fund Administrators (AFPs) model, which makes 80% of elderly people earn less than a minimum retirement wage after their working life, is one of the most dramatic indicators of this model that puts profit above life in any circumstance.

The Andean country was one of the most affected by the 1929 crisis. Soon, between 1938 and 1974, it developed a welfare state model, reaching its apex with the government of Salvador Allende who, through the electoral process, proposed a peaceful path to socialism, notably failed more because it was peaceful than because it was socialist.

After the military coup, there was a drastic change in this model and, between 1974 and 1990 (when the dictatorship lasted), the country assumed neoliberalism by reducing fiscal spending, privatizing basic public services and promoting foreign direct investment. In the last 30 years – after the transition to democracy and even passing through the center-left governments of Ricardo Lagos and Michele Bachelet – the model has been deepened. Privatizations and the condition dependent on foreign capital have intensified. Health, education, water, electricity, roads, among others, have been privatized.

Especially in 2006, with the Penguin Revolt [2], the new generations began to combat the brutal results of the model. In 2005, it had been approved that the students finance their university studies with private credits (banks) and the high interest rates caused a huge number of graduate students to start their working life extremely indebted, taking the indebtedness of the families to unpayable levels.

In 2011[3], in Bachelet’s second government, it was the turn of the university students to play a real student uprising that brought the demand for free higher education. For this demand to be met, a tax reform would be necessary that was not approved by Congress. Although the demonstrations turned into law the end of profits in education and the end of selection in private universities that received financial contributions from the state, in practice this did not happen. In 2018, the Chilean feminist movement, headed by Coordinadora 8M, organized one of the largest collective demonstrations of women against domestic violence, the precariousness of women’s work and respect for women’s lives. Since then, discontent and the population’s growing perception of one of the main consequences of the neoliberal model: social inequality.

According to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which Chile was the first Latin American country to join in 2010, the country is now at the top of the ranking of the most unequal among the world’s main economies. In addition to economic discontent, there is a deep unease with what demonstrators have called tear democracy. In other words, a process of transition that has preserved many remnants of the dictatorship, especially concerning the country’s constitution, which, although altered in the last 30 years, follows Pinochet’s example. Repression is also a legacy because the Carabineros (los pacos, as the young people call them) act against the protests with a brutality that really brings back the memory of the years of lead.

Faced with such a scenario, a profound political and economic malaise needed only a spark to ignite the paradise of neoliberals in Latin America. The change in the correlation of forces in the continent, particularly marked by the indigenous and popular insurrection in Ecuador, has made the 30 peso increase in the Santiago subway the drop of water that has overflowed the glass of indignation against the abuses of businessmen, politicians and police forces in the last 30 years. That’s why one of the main slogans on Santiago’s walls and in marches throughout Chile is that “it’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years” of abuse. Definitely, this model has come to an end.

Malaise comes into play, from disappointment to insurrection

Like all spontaneous rebellion, it was also off the radar of political analysts, be they left or right-wing. But, as it was June 2013 in Brazil or the Indignados of the Spanish State in 2011, the fact that it was not perceptible did not mean that it was inexplicable. Already in the past elections, in which Sebastián Piñera was elected, less than 50% of Chileans turned out to vote and a new political force, heir to the 2006 and 2011 mobilizations like the Frente Amplio (FA), from an anti-model discourse headed by Beatriz Sánchez, reached 20% of the votes electing an important parliamentary bench and breaking the traditional duopoly of the traditional Chilean parties that had supported the establishment until then.

If anything, the fact that it has not been predicted shows the inability of the political and intellectual elites to anticipate events, perhaps because they are too distant from popular everyday life, or perhaps because the inevitable, in historical terms, is almost always unpredictable, to paraphrase León Trotsky. The first lady Cecilia Morel in a hollow audio even stated that “We are absolutely superimposed, it is like a foreign, alien invasion, I don´t know how to say. Please, let us remain calm, let us call on goodwill people, let us take advantage of rationing our food and let us have to reduce our privileges and share them with others”. This has obviously reinforced the distance between the political caste and the people and transformed the condition of “alien” into one of the main aesthetic ironies of the protests.

In spite of the perplexity, it is not by chance that the pronouncements most connected to the streets are those of the FA, especially of its left-wing, with emphasis on the new Social Convergence party that runs the city hall of Valparaíso with Jorge Sharp. The Convergencia bench – Gael Yeomans, Gonzalo Winter, Diego Ibáñez and Gabriel Boric – in the midst of the protests put on the agenda the reduction of the deputies’ salaries (which was ultimately approved), propagated the need for a new Constituent Assembly and were the first to make themselves available to constitutionally accuse President Piñera and his Interior Minister, Andrés Chadwick, for the serious human rights violations committed during the days of struggle.

Of course, this unease with the model is not a particularity of Chile, it is of the whole continent. The last Latinobarometer [4] already pointed in this direction. For 75% of the people in Latin America, there is a perception that they govern for a few and that governments do not defend the interests of the majority. According to the study, only 5% consider that there is full democracy; 25% believe that there are small problems; 45%, big problems; and 12% believe that what we see today cannot be called democracy. Furthermore, the average for those who consider Latin America democratic is 5.4 on a scale of 1 to 10.

A few days before the outbreak of social protest, (still) President Piñera had declared that Chile was “an oasis within a convulsed Latin America. A real prophecy in reverse. After the announcement of the increase in the price of the subway in Santiago, the revolt that was initiated once again by the young people infected the people of the entire country. In solidarity with the brutal repression and the establishment of the State of Emergency, the cacerolazos broke their silence in solidarity with the young people in struggle and began a great day of struggles that extends until the conclusion of this report. The port workers of Valparaíso and other sectors of the working class, such as teachers, garrisons and miners, have also moved to the activity (despite the vacillation of the Central Unica de los Trabajadores, CUT, led by the Chilean Communist Party). The country experienced days of looting, bus and train fires, barricades of resistance and large mass demonstrations.

Piñera, after declaring that he was “at war” with the demonstrators, and after two days of protest, revoked the increase in the subway. It was already late, disappointment turned into insurrection. The president then called a “negotiation lunch” at the Palacio de La Moneda and, faced with the opposition’s refusal to negotiate under a state of emergency and a curfew, announced a set of “proposals” that made some concessions to the mass movement, without breaking with the subsidiary character of the Chilean model, in which those from below earn little, those from above are rewarded with much. It has not convinced them either.

The General Strike (23) was a day of great mobilizations in the country and of great confrontations at night. The following day, Chile saw the biggest street demonstration since the end of the dictatorship, the “Biggest March of Chile” counted with millions of citizens occupying the streets of the country demanding, among other things, the departure of Piñera and the convocation of a Constituent Assembly.

As is recurrent in similar situations, Piñera’s speech and that of the official press then began to separate the “vandals” from the peaceful demonstrators, saying to be attentive to the voice of the streets and showing images of police officers fraternizing with the insurgent people. However, while he was broadcasting his demonstration live on a national network calling for the unity of the Chileans and vomiting demagogy, the mobilizations in Valparaíso were so strong and radicalized that the National Congress, based in that city, was forced to be evacuated for fear that the demonstrators would occupy their rightful home.

Already cornered and afraid of the arrival of the official UN mission, the government on Sunday (27), suspended the curfew in many regions of the country. Piñera, for his part, demanded that all the Ministers put their posts at the disposal of the government. On Monday (28) he raised the State of Emergency, exchanging eight Ministers of strategic areas, such as his right-hand man, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick, the spokeswoman for the presidency Cecilia Pérez and Finance Minister Felipe Larraín. Even so, the situation did not stabilize and there were very strong and even more injured confrontations on Monday.

According to the National Institute of Human Rights (NHRI), in less than ten days of the day (October 24th) there were already 2,840 detainees, about 20 dead and more than 25 reports of sexual abuse of girls in police stations, besides a large number of injured people, almost 300 by firearms and 270 who lost their sight, were hit by tear gas bombs, rubber bullets, etc.. This places for all organizations in solidarity with the struggle of the Chilean people the task of activating local and international organizations to denounce and stop the brutal repression of the Piñera government and its Pacos, militias and corrupt governments that hide behind repression and impunity.

In order not to conclude… the future requires courage!

The mobilizations in Chile, besides strengthening our faith in the Social Revolution, bring many elements to think about the future of Latin America. The first most apparent questions refer to the symbolic. The fact that the Mapuche flag is one of the main symbols of the demonstrations brings us the roots of our continent, the legacy and example of its original peoples, victims of the European genocide in a country that was forcibly drunk by neoliberalism.

From a political point of view, the revolt in the wake of the Peruvian mobilizations, the indigenous and popular insurrection of Ecuador, the Haitian, Puerto Rican insurrection and the uprising of the young Panamanians, the electoral processes in which the neoliberal right suffered important setbacks as in Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina, also brings a situation in which the scenario is painted with much more difficulties for the reactionary right led by Trump and Bolsonaro, who run the risk of being ever more isolated.

From the social point of view, there is a movement of reorganization and agglutination of existing movements. They bring to the scene of indignation programmatic elements and accumulations that are expressed in councils, neighborhood assemblies, youth and feminist organizations that give political content to the popular uprising and that increase a deeper change in the political regime. They feed possibilities of an institutional outcome that moves from the apparently illegal to the really legitimate. Very close to the experience of the Argentinean bring the protagonism of neighbors and movements already constituted as a depository of popular power. The Piñera government is on the tightrope between its survival and the response to the uprising. It will hardly be possible to choose the second option easily. What we must bet on is the development of double power tendencies, which, although embryonic, is the only way to break the crisis of representativeness of our times.

There are new social and political movements that emerge from the struggle of women, young people, indigenous people, blacks, LGBTs, the oppressed and workers. The current events show that there is the possibility of opening a new cycle that puts the mass movement in a more offensive position against imperialism. This new moment needs to overcome the errors and betrayals of the Bolivarian and social-liberal governments. The tasks that can respond to the new correlation of forces in Latin America are related to democratic issues, to the fight against government authoritarianism and for civil liberties, making the necessary units of action for that, but also of a programmatic order, in defense of the environment and the native peoples against predatory extractivism, for the independence of our countries from the chains of financialization and against the social inequality produced by neoliberalism, placing at the center of this program the claim that the rich will pay for the crisis they created.

On the other hand, the economic crisis shows no signs of recovery, showing that the neoliberal recipe, no matter how propagated it may be as a solution, is nothing but a poison for the sick who need medicine and do not have it. It is not a question of the worse the better, but of an increasingly widespread awareness in the mass movement that the way out will come from our own strength in action. Any possible solution to the serious crisis we are experiencing will be the product of our independent activity of the neoliberal model and of the bourgeois state set up to reproduce our condition as exploited people and the condition dependent on our countries in relation to imperialisms, whether they be Yankee, Chinese or European.

New parties such as Nuevo Perú, Social Convergence in Chile, DSA in the United States or PSOL in Brazil are tools for the construction of a model in which the people control politics and the economy. We need to bet on the development of these new political movements and the new social movements that are legatees of the new wave of rebellions. The new always comes and we must put all our forces at the service of overcoming the past, which is a clothing that no longer serves us.

 

[1] Ana Tijoux is a French-Chilean singer known for dealing with themes such as post-colonialism, feminism, environmentalism and social justice in her lyrics. She made this song especially for the recent protests in 2019. See at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVaTuVNN7Zs

[2] They were called Penguins, the high school students who at that time took to the streets and occupied their schools in defense of a free and universal public education. The nickname comes from the fact that their school uniforms resembled penguin feathers.

[3] More information at: https://www.sul21.com.br/postsrascunho/2011/08/brasileiros-relatam-crescimento-de-protestos-e-repressao-no-chile/

[4] http://www.latinobarometro.org/lat.jsp

 

 

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