By Countercurrents Collective
People in thousands joined in protests in Chile on Monday (November 18). It marked the first month of the most serious public protests against neo-liberal policies in recent time in Chile.
The protests show the people’s distrust of the social agenda the government announced, and the parliamentary agreement on a new constitution.
Anti-riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons against protesters.
Protests also took place in the cities of Temuco, where thousands of people took to the streets, as well as Concepcion, where people also paid tribute to the anniversary of a young indigenous man who was shot dead by police in circumstances that are still under investigation.
The father of Camilo Catrillanca, a Mapuche man from the southern Araucania region, which has long been in conflict with the state, appealed to people to demonstrate “calmly.”
It began with 30 cents issue
The protest began on October 14 as a call by university students to sneak into the Santiago subway to protest against the increase in the ticket prices. It was a 30-cent increase in the subway fare.
In the capital Santiago, the protest started in the Italia Square, renamed Dignity Square, and in the Avenue Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins, better known as Alameda.
The police have been heavily criticized for their handling of the demonstrations, with medical experts saying that more than 200 protesters have suffered eye injuries or been blinded by tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
Kattya Barrera, 19, of Santiago’s low-income La Florida neighborhood said she believed nothing had changed since Catrillanca’s death. “When someone goes out to demonstrate, they take out their eyes,” she said. “Today isn’t just about Catrillanca, it’s for everyone.”
A 1.2 million-march
Street demonstrations reached unprecedented levels on October 26, when around 1.2 million people gathered for a march in Santiago, to demand the resignation of President Sebastian Pinera and denounce his right-wing austerity policies.
People in Chile have not demobilized. They continue in the streets demanding real transformations.
This week, the police chief said he would fit firearms officers with surveillance cameras and deploy more human rights experts.
Ana Piquer, the executive director of Amnesty International Chile, said Pinera should respond to the many complaints of police excesses.
“We don’t want to see any more victims of police violence anywhere in Chile, killed or seriously injured simply for raising their voice on social demands,” she said.
In the country mired in social injustice, the discontent quickly shifted against “30 years” of neoliberal policies, which have seriously affected health, education, wages, and pensions.
“It’s not 30 cents, it’s 30 years,” citizens shouted to summarize their requirement of a Constituent Assembly, which can deeply transform the economy inherited from the dictatorship (1973-1990).
The protests turned unparalleled in the last three decades. It has no identified leaders. It turned into a cry for a fairer economic model.
On Thursday, the health ministry announced an alert across six of Chile’s 16 regions to release extra funding amid a surge of 10,000 trauma cases and an unspecified increase in people seeking treatment for mental health issues.
The ministry did not link the health issues to the protests, but said they were due to “a situation of high health risk to the population”.
Rights not respected
“In the last four weeks, Chile changed; the Chileans changed, the government changed; we all have changed. The social pact under which we had lived broke down,” said President Sebastian Pinera.
Pinera announced a series of social measures in parliament.
He acknowledged for the first time that there have been abuses and excessive use of force by security forces, which he promised to sanction.
The president admitted last Sunday “there was excessive use of force” by state agents and that in some cases “the rights of everyone were not respected.”
The unrest has left at least 23 dead. The number of injured persons was 2,381 injured. Chile’s National Institute of Human Rights provided the data in its latest report.
Carabineros, Chilean militarized police, informed on November 18: The number of arrested protesters is more than 15,000 since October 18. The police claimed that of the arrested protesters, 4,000 were linked to “looting.”
However, other sources claimed that the number of arrested protesters is more than 17,000, and 950 are in pretrial detention.
Octavio Avendaño, a sociologist in the University of Chile, said: “The persistence of people in continuing to express their discontent reflects that each of the attempts to calm or ease the conflict has not been effective.”
“There are two things that are pending: the social agenda and human rights. As long as they are not resolved, the conflict will continue,” the expert told EFE.
Hundreds of homicides
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), began a visit to the country on November 18 to investigate hundreds of complaints of abuse, torture, sexual violence and homicides by the security forces.
The IACHR joins other organizations on the ground, such as Human Rights Watch and the UN.
Paulo Abrao, executive secretary of the IACHR, met separately with justice minister Hernan Larrain, the president of the Supreme Court Haroldo Brito, and with representatives of 50 civil organizations.
“The commission focuses mainly on the future conditions of affirmation of the right to justice and reparation of the victims in a way that the operation of the justice system in this context is crucial,” said Abrao.
270 eye injuries: Police had to suspend pellet use
At least 270 protesters have been wounded in the eyes as the Carabineros shot pellets directly in the face in anti-government protests. The eye-injury figure is a world record in terms of similar injuries.
The Director of the Carabineros, Mario Rozas, had to announce the suspension of the use of pellets as an anti-riot tool, except in cases of “legitimate defense, when it represents a death threat.”
The measure follows a study by the University of Chile that states that these pellets are composed of only 20 percent rubber, while the rest, 80 percent, are with other elements including lead.
Rozas said the measure would be maintained while the pellets are subjected to other tests requested from laboratories abroad. “The restriction will be evaluated when we have in our possession the results of the studies,” he added.
However, the Carabineros had rejected the University’s report and urged the ammunition supplier to submit a report on its composition.
On earlier occasions, the Rancagua, Concepción, Antofagasta, Valparaíso and La Serena Courts of Appeals had ordered the police to refrain from using pellets in public demonstrations, and to limit the use of tear gas that affects people’s physical integrity.
Rape, torture, without water and food
Reports said: Girls are imprisoned without water or food. They are kept in isolated cells. Sexual abuse and torture of protesters were reported.
One report said: “Arbitrary detentions, under-16-year minors in cells without water, food, and access to talk to their families. Forced nudity in detentions and more serious forms of sexual violence. Tortures, excessive use of violence, deaths, and disappearances.”
There are reports of serious police human rights violations.
Repression reaches similar to Pinochet’s repression
After completing an “emergency mission” in Chile, European Parliament Members (MEP) Miguel Urban and Idoia Villanueva on Wednesday reported that this South American country suffers repression levels similar to those seen in the last three years of the Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990).
Besides preparing a mission report, the leftist MEPs wrote an open letter addressing Federica Mogherini, the European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
They ask that the EU requires President Pinera to halt the repression of citizens and ask for explanations about the actions carried out by the Army and the Police.
Urban and Villanueva recalled that the EU and Chile signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which contains a “Cause on Democracy”.
This binding instrument contemplates that the bilateral trade deal can be suspended if Chile does not respect human rights.
“Chile is just another example within a global trend towards the criminalization of social protests and persecution of human rights defenders,” Urban said, adding that such problems “are being silenced.”
The MEP indicated that Europe does not want to recognize the “exhaustion” of neoliberalism, which is an unsustainable model that enhances social inequalities.
“The EU cannot look the other way,” Urban stressed and regretted that some MEPs are just asking for a debate on the Chilean issue, which does not imply a final joint resolution.
Chile “is just another example within a global trend of criminalization of social protests and the persecution of human rights defenders,” Urban said and added that such problems “are being silenced.” The MEP indicated that Europe does not want to recognize the “exhaustion” of neoliberalism, which is an “unsustainable model that generates inequality.”
“The European Union cannot look the other way,” Urban said and regretted that some groups of parliamentarians, who refuse to condemn the repression in Chile, ask for a debate on the Chilean issue but that does not imply a final joint resolution.
They torture, rape, kill
At the Latin Grammys ceremony held in Las Vegas on Thursday, singer Mon Laferte uncovered her breasts where she wrote: “In Chile, they torture, rape and kill.”
This powerful statement was meant to express solidarity with millions who have taken to the streets daily for four weeks now to demand deep political and economic changes.
Since then social networks have offered the stage for a symbolic battle in which harsh criticism has been raised against her brave gesture.
She has been attacked for her ideas, for her body and even for her music, although she won her second Latin Grammy in the category of Best Alternative Music Album.
Subtle forms of censorship were not long in coming. Almost immediately, Instagram prevented Mon Laferte’s topless photos from being easily searched and located.
“My free body for a free homeland,” the Chilean singer wrote as a reply in her media account.
“If the images were men’s breasts, they would not be censored.”
Some social media users also raised their voices frontally in support of the Latin American singer and her message.
“Kendall Jenner and Mon Laferte both with her boobs showing up on a red carpet. One is celebrated. The other is criticized for her nudity,” @fineIovers said and added, “the truth is men don’t care about nudity. They care when woman bodies are not there for their likeness and consume.”
Contrary to what some xenophobic and misogynistic comments hinted at, Mon Laferte is not a frivolous artist in search of easy fame.
In an interview with the BBC, she talked about her childhood in a country she remembers as a place where social injustice prevails.
“I was born during the dictatorship in a poor neighborhood,” she said and recalled that her “house had no floor, no doors or keys.”
Nevertheless, “her mother, father, and sister worked for a long time trying to improve it,” outlet En24 reported, adding that her father was bricklayer and carpenter, which meant that her family didn’t have enough money to get to the end of the month.
“Sometimes not even for reaching the middle of the month,” Mon Laferte bounded.
The 36-year-old artist also commented that she began singing at age 14 to get some money to help her family and explained that she considered it “natural” to get involved in protests.
“All Chilean society is furious about inequality,” Mon Laferte said and stressed the importance of taking part in collective actions that are aimed at solving problems “affecting the Chilean people.”
Progressive social movements and parties, however, have criticized the agreement reached among political elites, which would seem to be looking for opportunities to perpetuate themselves in power.
Question neoliberal policies
While Pinera revoked the increase in subway fare, social unrest increased in magnitude as the Chileans began to question “30 years” of neoliberal policies, which have implied a systematic withdrawal of economic and social rights for millions of people.
Eleven opposition lawmakers on Tuesday filed a “constitutional accusation” against Pinera for his responsibility in hundreds of human rights violations recorded since October 14.
“He is responsible for brutal human rights violations… His decisions led to military and police actions and he has to answer for his actions,” said Daniel Nunez, a lawmaker from the Communist Party (PC).
“We’re going to use democracy’s weapons so that Sebastian Pinera assumes the political responsibility he eludes.”
The 110-pages accusation “has long been worked with the parliamentarians’ teams,” said Democratic Revolution (RD) lawmaker Jorge Brito. The lawmaker explained that Pinera “has been hiding behind the police and the military to deny democracy.”
For it to be processed, the constitutional accusation requires a favorable vote of half-plus-one of the representatives in the Chamber of Deputies.
If it passes this test, the accusation will require that two-thirds of the senators approve it. If this also happens, Pinera may be dismissed.
Lawmakers presented the constitutional accusation related to these human rights violations from the Wide Front (FA), the Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the Party for Democracy (PPD).
In the Chilean political history, constitutional accusations were raised against Manuel Montt in 1868 Carlos Ibanez in 1931 and Arturo Alessandri in 1939.
A new constitution
A poll by Pulso Ciudadano this Monday revealed that 81 percent of Chileans would vote for a new Constitution in the referendum announced for April 2020.
The study indicates that only 8.2% of those consulted were opposed to a new Constitution, while 6.3 percent did not know what to answer, which demonstrates the broad support of the country’s citizens for a new Magna Carta.
Equally important is that when asked about the preferred body to draft the new constitutional text, 63.5 percent favored the constitutional convention (constituent assembly), composed only of citizens and without the participation of politicians.
Only 24.4% support the idea that this task should be carried out by a mixed constitutional convention (mostly backed by right-wing parties and the government), which would be made up of citizens and parliamentarians in equal shares.
The poll showed that the plebiscite has aroused great interest amongst the population, since, in a country like Chile, where abstentionism is very high, 78.2 percent said they would definitely vote, and only 6.7 percent said they would not go to the polls.
Regarding the reasons why Chile needs a new Constitution, respondents stated first the need to reduce existing inequalities, followed by a better health system, education, pensions, putting an end to the Constitution imposed during the Pinochet dictatorship, and greater social justice, in that order.
Don’t forget the people, says Communist Party
Guillermo Teillier, president of the Communist Party of Chile, insisted on November 15 that citizens had to play an important role in the process of writing a new Constitution.
Referring to the agreement signed on November 15 by 11 opposition parties and officials, Teillier welcomed a referendum as “an undeniable step forward” to define the mechanism that will allow drafting a new Constitution.
Although the Communist Party did not sign that agreement, the party is “going to participate in the whole process, undoubtedly, in Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, the Constitution Commission, and then in the whole process that comes forward. The struggle is not over, the struggle continues,” he said in an interview for Radio Nuevo Mundo station.
Teillier stated that the Communist Party maintains a point of difference, because “the two-third quorum agreed so the matters to be discussed were approved and what will be part of the new Constitution, is very high.”
He stressed the importance of not only creating the conditions for the referendum, but also responding to the situation of workers, their low wages and pensions, health problems, the elderly and others.
He also insisted that no leftist party activist could stay away from this process: “We all have to supervise (the process), but above all the social movement, the workers’ organizations, which led and forced the government to completely surrendered their positions.”
Chile’s lawmakers on November 15 agreed to hold a referendum next April on replacing the constitution drafted by Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990), bowing to demands of millions who want the country’s social and economic model overhauled.
Chileans will be asked whether they approve the idea of a new constitution and whether current lawmakers should serve on the commission that would redraft the document.
The agreement for a new Constitution includes a question on a Constituent Convention, not a Constituent Assembly, a notion fought against by right-wing forces in Chile for the last 30 years.
While the agreement has the backing of parties that support the current administration of Sebastian Pinera, alongside those of the former “Concertacion”, and a sector the Broad Front, it has drawn suspicion from the Communist Party, who along with a sector of the Broad Front, decided not to participate in the negotiations accusing a lack of consultation with social movements.
I am with you, says singer Patti Smith
United States singer and poet Patti Smith said Sunday that “ordinary people” are really the ones challenging the status quo in the world, and sent a message to support protesters who have been demanding social rights for a month in the streets of Chile.
“I am with you,” said the 73-year-old singer, who is considered one of the world’s most influential rock music artists.
Smith, who recently performed at a theater in Santiago as part of an international tour added she was “very touched by people in Chile” and acknowledged the “bad times” happening across the world.
At the beginning of the crisis, the artist wrote a poem on her Instagram account dedicated to Chile, a country she is visiting for the first time.
“My message was just to simply say (to the protesters): I am with you, I am thinking about you,” she said Sunday during a press conference in which she also spoke about the importance of protecting the environment and fighting together against injustice.
“We have to support one another, we have to support our youth and we have to keep our revolutionary hearts beating,” said the singer of the legendary songs “Because the Night” and “People Have the Power”.
The singer added, when she sees “that the people are motivated and standing up for their rights and taking the streets, I think it is very important to show solidarity.”
“The one beauty about terrible times is that it wakes people up and hopefully inspires them to unify,” Smith commented.