“The Chilean model, which is presented abroad as the greatest success of neoliberalism, presents a very different reality for millions of Chilean families,” said Tomás Hirsch, deputy of the Chilean Humanist Party (Frente Amplio), in an interview with ALAI. This is expressed in the growing income gap and concentration of wealth, and the suffocating indebtedness in which the majority of workers sink. In fact, “all the indicators place us as one of the most unequal countries in the OECD, with the worst rates of education, health, pensions, quality of housing, green areas per inhabitant…”, he adds. This “deeply inhuman system” does not prioritize quality of life. The following is an exchange on the Chilean government’s policy orientations, which question its moral quality in order to criticize Venezuela.
Congressman, President Sebastián Piñera’s criticism of the constitutional government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela is notorious, in the context of the attack by the Lima group and the OAS against the Bolivarian Revolution. We would like to review some aspects in your own country to verify the coherence in the attitude of the Chilean government.
President Piñera’s position is one of incoherence that borders on political surrealism. Chile must be the only country in the world that, 29 years after the end of the dictatorship, still has a Constitution generated in dictatorship, written by a small group of extreme right-wing men without any debate, “voted” without electoral registers, designed to perpetuate a profoundly anti-democratic system. Except for a few minor adjustments, it remains the same as the one that kept dictator Augusto Pinochet in power. For almost 20 years we had finger-pointed senators and a totally rigged electoral system. And is it from here that we want to give lessons in democracy?
Chile, while boasting internationally about its supposed economic success, has one of the worst income distributions on the planet, with a shameful minimum wage that is not enough for the subsistence of the one million workers who receive it. And is it intended to give lessons on social rights from here? The Chilean pension system, also created in dictatorship and maintained by the power of business over the political world, provides miserable pensions, close to 25% of the salary received at the time of retirement. It is a real violation of the human rights of the elderly. At the same time, health and education are businesses and not rights, defined by the president himself as consumer goods.
Chile is the only country in the world where water is 100% private. Fishing resources were delivered in Piñera’s first government in perpetuity to 7 families, through a law that was publicly recognized as corrupt, approved with bribes to ministers and parliamentarians. Copper, lithium, forests, energy, everything, absolutely everything, has been denationalised and handed over to multinationals, which of course speak very highly of our country?
The police, Carabineros de Chile, is being investigated for the largest robbery in the history of our country. And meanwhile, those same carabineros continue murdering the Mapuche.
Does this country want to teach lessons about democracy, justice, human rights, social equality? It’s embarrassing to even suggest it.
Venezuela is described as a “dictatorship” and its government as repressive. This is particularly delicate in a country like Chile that suffered a virulent coup d’état against a president elected by the people and a bloody military dictatorship for seventeen years. Tell us about the current government’s stance on that nefarious period and the current state of democracy in Chile.
Unfortunately, we are faced with a “revival” of the dictatorship’s and Pinochet’s assessment. Without going any further, today (February 13) one of the main senators of the government declared himself Piñerista-pinochetista. An attempt has been made to negate human rights violations during the dictatorship. Piñera tried to install a declared denier as Minister of Culture. It should not be forgotten that, in addition, for his election Piñera was supported, with his personal gratitude, by the Chilean “Bolsonaro”, José Antonio Kast, a neo-fascist populist who has the growing support of government parliamentarians. In Chile, according to all international reports, people continue to be tortured, Mapuche and social and environmental leaders are murdered. And the mantle of impunity has meant that none of those responsible ends up in jail. And the same condemned human rights violators enjoy luxurious facilities in the 5 star prison of Punta Peuco. It is very regrettable to say this, but in the last year we have seen a government that is turning strongly to the hard right.
The Chilean government often denounces alleged human rights violations in Venezuela. We have witnessed the recent cold-blooded murder of Camilo Catrillanca – one of many victims – and unfortunately there are frequent references to discrimination against the Mapuche people, repression and militarization in their ancestral territory. Do you believe that the Chilean State, and in particular the Piñera government, respects and vigorously defends human rights?
During the last few years, not only in this government but also in those of the former Concertación, human rights have been repeatedly violated, as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other international human rights organizations have repeatedly expressed. The Mapuche have been murdered in cold blood. Mapuche children have even been attacked with tear gas bombs in their schools and shot at point-blank range. And the criminals, always members of the Carabineros police force, have not had anything happen to them; at most they have been sentenced with absurd nominal sentences. At the same time, hundreds of vulnerable children and adolescents have died in the last 12 years while in the care of the State in the Sename (National Service of Minors). And lately, we have witnessed repeated attacks on different places of memory corresponding to the places where the dictatorship tortured and murdered, and the government lets do and looks to the side. Yes, we can say emphatically, albeit with pain, that human rights are violated in Chile.
Another aspect that is often criticized as one of Venezuela’s major problems is corruption in the ranks of the government. Tell me about the governing political ethics in Chile.
The best way to answer this question is with a couple of examples that all of Chile knows in detail:
The fishing law, enacted by Piñera in his first government, is considered an almost perfect example of what corruption and bribery are. Dozens of bribed congressmen and senators, ministers and undersecretaries who received millions of dollars, complete paragraphs of the law drafted by the big fishing companies and sent by e-mail to the government. All of the above has been proven by the justice system. Result? The law is still in force under the pretext that in Chile a law cannot be annulled.
SQM, the world’s largest lithium producer, was given by Pinochet to his son-in-law, Julio Ponce Lerou. For the past 10 years, he has been buying out parliamentarians from all the duopolly’s political parties. All the cases are documented, the businessmen confessed and the parliamentarians acknowledged having received the contributions. Result? All of them reached “agreements” with the justice system and none of them was condemned.
Only two days ago, it was revealed how Piñera, in his first term, made (successful) efforts to obtain a private beach in front of one of his many houses in the lakes of southern Chile. It is a small sample of what is revealed every day in our country: that corruption and above all the abuse of power have been installed in Chilean politics.
The main motivation of the governments of the United States and Europe, which promote and endorse the attempted coup d’état against the government of Nicolas Maduro, is the enormous wealth of natural resources of Venezuela, today managed by the State. Chile is also a rich country in this sense. Tell us about who benefits from the natural resources in your country.
In Chile, natural resources have long since ceased to belong to Chileans. Copper, once nationalized by Allende with the unanimous support of the National Congress, now belongs 80% to multinationals. Lithium, a strategic wealth, 2 economic groups, fishing resources were given to 7 families, water is privatized in a unique case worldwide, energy is managed entirely by multinational groups. And apart from that, pensions are managed by four foreign groups. The whole country is in private hands.
Chile’s foreign policy seems to have no sustenance of its own and to be automatically aligned with the designs of the U.S. What is the reason, in your opinion?
There’s a shameful photo that circulated on social networks some time ago. During his visit to the U.S., when he met with President Trump, President Piñera showed him a U.S. flag that contained a tiny Chilean flag. To see the image reproduced in the whole world was a national shame but at the same time a verification of the extent to which this government, without any dignity, aligns itself with the government and the interventionist policies of the United States. The same happens at the time of signing international treaties, in which Chile has accepted absolutely unfavorable conditions for the small and medium national business. Behind this servile attitude, there are clearly economic interests at work. The Chilean political and business right are deeply linked to U.S. interests and the president himself is part of that link.
Do you think that the permanent attacks of the right-wing governments against Venezuela are a way of diverting attention from the problems that affect their countries? In addition to what has already been said, what should be changed in Chile?
Chile needs to move from the current “formal” democracy to a true democracy, with effective social participation. For that, the first thing is to give us a new Constitution generated through a Constituent Assembly. On the other hand, we need to advance in an accelerated manner towards a State that guarantees fundamental social rights. Recovering our strategic resources is another urgent task. At the international level, to integrate constructively with Latin America, contributing to the strengthening of human rights and democracy in the region.
Chile must stop pretending to be what it is not. It must stop giving “lessons” to other countries and concentrate on solving the multiple and enormous social problems that we have here.
Article published in Revista América Latina en Movimiento Por el patio trasero 19/02/2019