Tomas Hirsch talk at the Jerusalem Hebrew University: the Failure of Success

25.03.2012 - Jerusalem - Silvia Swinden

“Last time I saw Batia Siebzehner, research fellow of the Truman Institute For the Advancement of Peace, who organised this event, we were running away from teargas in Santiago. We talked then about Latin American integration. Today I shall focus on Chile, my country, which was one of the examples of implementation and deepening of the neoliberal system. Last year this mythical image began to collapse leading to social mobilisations.

In 1973 Pinochet’s military coup and extremely violent dictatorship commenced the implementation of the Milton Freeman project. In 1988 a referendum marked the end of the military regime which was followed by 20 years of government by the Concertacion, (Coalition) initially formed by 17 political parties, ending up today with 4 parties, a social democracy.

The aspiration of recovering democracy, social justice, participation, change in the system of relationships, an end to disappearances, human rights violations, and torture, led to some way forward, but also a retreat in social participation. The message from politicians was, in essence, “do not risk what we have won, go home, we are in charge now”, people were kind of burnt out. The neoliberal model was deepened, what was established by the dictatorship advanced in democracy, with privatisation of health, education, welfare and social housing. Foreign investment was given more advantages, a flux of money with less taxes for the international capital.

In 2005-6, there was much popular support but a maximum of contradictions, growth but huge inequality the Gini coefficient index went down in spite of growth, Pinochet’s constitution continues with tiny changes, the electoral system allows the second political force to have the same weight as the first to guarantee balance between forces, a permanent advantage for the right, impossible to modify because of the need for 72% of the votes in Congress.

Governments with a progressive discourse, fear of dictatorship, tactical voting for the Concertacion, the lesser of two evils. The macroeconomics numbers in excellent condition, 22 years of growth, increase in reserves, favourable exports balance.

The rich/poor gap, however, grows, but it is presented as a great example of a country back to democracy and a good economy, much propaganda of that image from bankers and the media. Very few social leaders talking about the failures of this “success”‘ in the world. A hidden reality not visible outside, inside Chile failure is seen as “personal” failure.

In 2006 starts the “revolution of the penguins”, secondary school students who call themselves penguins because of their uniform. A social mobilisation requesting change in the education system, by now a big business. There are negotiations with the Concertacion, some students delegates are invited. A great agreement is apparently achieved followed by a betrayal to the students movement which becomes very much depressed.

Bachelet leaves government with 80% approval from the population, but the Concertacion loses the election. She was close to people, she gave impulse to changes in pensions and advantages for people without resources, but the Concertacion is corrupt, self-serving. There is no continuity, Piñera wins, one of the four richest people in chile, a vote of punishment to the Concertacion for abuse and mistreatment of the people.

Piñera comes into a moment of bad feeling, but people had problems to protest against the Concertacion. Piñera is installed and the biggest earthquake in our history happens, opening a parenthesis, one cannot go out protesting, conflicts enter a waiting time. Six months later, the miners. It inhibits mobilisation, the minister lighting candles. With Piñera the enemy becomes clearer, but there is a parenthesis.

In the new year a situation of never ending mobilisations begins. All the mobilisations have to do wit problems coming from before, not against laws generated by Piñera. The environment, mapuches, students, regional postponement, all to do with previous governments. An accumulation of systems of tensions, Camila Vallejo becomes famous through students mobilisations. But it all started with the environment, the approval of the environmental impact evaluation of a hydroelectric project in the chilean patagonia.

The council of that area triggered a reaction that started to grow through social media. Generating a dynamics of mobilisation and protest, following Egypt, it begins to grow but not a traditional mobilisation. Young, nonviolent, creative, with alternative groups, themes that had not appeared before, ecology, art, culture. From that mobilisation they link up with the beginning of students mobilisations that take place every year, but this time the previous mobilisation joins in with the students’ mobilisations.

The Concertacion had been working with a tacit social contract “we are rich, you are poor, you will stay poor but your children will have higher education, and they will be able to live better”, the next generation will have a different quality of life, and people bought it. They tried to send their kids to university, there was a big growth in university education, but that had to be payed for. The family did not have the money but there were bank loans with state support. At the end of the studies they would pay for over 20 yeas. The bad treatment of the people grew but they tolerated it because of those expectations. It lasted 10 years.

Many got degrees and many left university. Society filled with people who had bad degrees and dropouts with huge family debts. The “penguins” were now at university, and they went out now, they mobilised but with the support of their parents who had the debts, people with degrees who could not find jobs. The main and best universities are still the public ones. The economic groups invested in universities, one of the best businesses.

Social mobilisations now face a government of the right, the enemy, with no politicians in power but technocrats, without capacity for crisis management at political level which deepens the crisis, a government cornered without responses. The technocrats are replaced by the hardest leaders of the chilean right. The situation softens a bit but it is too late, one mobilisation after another. Support for the government falls to 23% but for the opposition is 14%, a general rejection of the political system.

The country in permanent mobilisation, nonviolent in general, participative, decentralised, but the system is not modified in any way, the model continues, for-profit education and other areas.

Scandals emerge of corruption and fraud by powerful economic groups, e.g., three pharmaceuticals, like department stores, a fraud involving three million people.

People become disillusioned, the image of Camila Vallejo in all the front pages. For the first time in february, in the summer, a whole region becomes mobilised against the mistreatment from the centralised system. A lorry arrives through a route from Argentina with petrol which is more expensive. In two days there is a generalised mobilisation. Today we see the mobilisation for Aysen. The levels of repression are just like during Pinochet, although the time of the Concertacion also had repression but less. This time against extremely peaceful people. It is all becoming very violent.

Although we have a Chile showing the failure it may derive into uncontrollable violence that would justify the government’s harsh repression, even if that means losing the next election.

The demands are endless, the list is too long.

The future? For the time being this is social mobilisation, but catharsis is not enough, there is no political construction, if the Concertacion wins again nothing will change, the left cannot give response in its present form. Nonviolence is not so clear, not everybody adheres, only specific solutions to single issue problems are proposed but what about change in the whole structure? It all links up with world mobilisations in Egypt, Spain, Israel, the awakening of a new generation. The old generations have no capacity to foresee this.

When I went to Egypt from another trip to Israel I was alone in the plane. I was told in israel, not here, it cannot happen here, the same we heard in Budapest and in Spain. Not here. The inability of the old generation to foresee this social dynamics, that this generation is awakening and we will see it everywhere, already in Russia, a complex but fascinating process, it may not produce immediate political and structural change but it is already a new situation, a social dynamics that may allow something else to flourish.

Categories: International, Middle East, Opinions, Politics


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