The heat and the cold have that thing of inevitable denunciation of the unjust. When a city burns or freezes, inequality emerges and there is no way to hide it. The summer in Santiago de Chile, in addition to boiling over with inequality and mismanagement, this 2021 brings extra ingredients of a social outbreak that does not cease, of a pandemic that is worsening, endorsed by the authorities who seem to forget that below, crushed in the recesses of capitalism, there are human beings and that without them nothing is possible, not the market, not consumption, not labour, nothing.
This is what Helmut Kramer talks about when we sit on a bench in the Plaza de Armas in the centre of Santiago, between the social distance and the friendly chatter of the inhabitants of that block, set to music with various Latin American accents, colours and skins, and Helmut says he likes that. He came walking to the interview, he has lived in the commune for several years now. We are also surrounded by the Cathedral, the equestrian statue of Pedro de Valdivia and the municipal building. I remind Helmut that he was protesting in front of that church as the founder of the Survivors’ Network and is still active in that cause. The saying of the organisation is that they know they are not the first but they work to be the last. Abuse in Chile is still going strong”, he says, “like the boot of that bronze conqueror who is still praised and not questioned, genocides who we worship without questioning anything and in this square are the icons of that abuse”.
His view of Chile is broad and reflective from his political militancy, but also from his own experience of the abuses of the patriarchal system that governs society. “This is what we want to change in the territory, because revolutions come from the bottom up, from the community, from the neighbourhoods to the municipality, and so on to the world”.
Helmut, a militant of the Humanist Party, wants to become mayor of Santiago de Chile and be the first progressive mayor in that commune. We asked him about this.
Pressenza: – What is the importance of a territorial government in the Chilean capital?
Helmut Kramer: The commune of Santiago has historically been the nerve centre of our country, not only because it is the commune where the central government is located, but also because it has concentrated large processes of social and political mobilisation. The historic marches along the Alameda and the current Plaza de la Dignidad have been a reflection of the social struggles of our people. In this context of mobilisation in Santiago, a diversity of territorial, cultural, environmental, feminist, animal rights, sexual dissidence, cooperatives, sports and migrant organisations have been born and have been expressing themselves in our territories in an increasingly articulated way. Faced with this reality, Santiago is crying out for a territorial government with a horizontal and libertarian outlook, a community outlook that aims to be a space of spaces, recognising that the way in which neighbours organise themselves has changed. A municipal government should be a bridge between the diverse citizen networks, broadening participation and democracy in the expression and real needs of the community.
Pressenza: – To the casual visitor, Santiago may appear to be a homogenous city and one of the most modern capitals in the world.
HK: Santiago is not a homogeneous commune, it is a commune where diversity converges in all its expression. Santiago is multi-coloured, it is multi-racial, our city is diverse in its expressions of sexual dissidence, our city in that sense is the living expression of the Chile in which we live.
It is in that diversity that Santiago resembles many world capitals, now that modernity is something totally debatable, progress and modernity in Chile has only really reached the communes of the 20%, those who reject change. The rest of the country and our commune is still waiting. To speak of modernity, to speak of progress without dignity, is to speak of more power for a few privileged minorities, we speak of living in a state that attacks human rights on a daily basis, not allowing access to everyone in a correct way.
Pressenza: – Are there neighbourhoods in Santiago? What defines them?
HK: We have 20 neighbourhoods that are the response to a history as a city, as a commune, where each neighbourhood has its own social and cultural definition. You go walking, you cross a street or an avenue and sometimes it’s almost like changing the world and you just go from one neighbourhood to another. That’s part of the beauty of our city. That diversity expressed in the neighbourhoods of Santiago makes our commune a beautiful territory because it is diverse.
Pressenza: What other identity issues besides neighbourhoods are present in the commune? Are gender identities and migrants visible? Do they have a place in the capital?
HK: Santiago is a convergence of different worlds that walk the same streets and it is precisely this diversity of identities that is expressed in a strong sense of community. I live it and we live it in the expression of the common pots where the feeling is that the people help the people, and no one asks if you are a migrant or not, if you are part of gender diversity or not; only the need and desire to help each other at a time when the national and local government is failing.
Pressenza: – Since October 2019 the commune has been the epicentre of social demonstrations, how does this affect the city’s neighbours? How do you deal with the proximity of central power in a country as centralist as Chile?
HK: Santiago has historically been the epicentre of the social struggles of our people, not only for the outbreak in October 2019. Clearly, we are all affected as neighbors. Obviously we want to live in peace, but that does not mean banning demonstrations, as some have even suggested. The main thing is to incorporate social demands into political life and seek solutions to these problems. We don’t take to the streets because we want to destroy our city, as the current authorities very badly put it. The people take to the streets because they are not allowed to express themselves, they are not listened to, their demands are minimized, their deep desire for a good life is criminalised. If we are able to express ourselves through a real democratic system – not just a parlour democracy – and if we can be part of a new construction of society, and together with this we advance towards a real decentralization, the processes of mobilisation will go in the direction of greater organisation around assemblies, cooperatives, etc. The answer lies in the territorial level. For more than 40 years the social fabric has been destroyed and the reconstruction of this from the community’s point of view will allow us to live in better conditions. The root of the problem is not the mobilisations, the root of the problem is a system with little democracy, an unworthy system that provokes the mobilizations.
Pressenza: Since the return of democracy, the mayor’s office in Santiago has been in the hands of the right or centre right. How has this ideological brand affected the city?
HK: Santiago has gone from hard right and populist governments such as Lavín, where our commune lost its water rights, to conservative communal governments such as Ravinet. The sum of these mayorships led us to become a commune that was often looked down upon even by its neighbours, who came to call it Santiasco. These mayors tried to erase the spirit of our commune, a spirit that has begun to revive strongly since the outbreak with the neighbours creating new forms of organisation, often surpassing the formal ones such as the Neighbourhood Councils. In this new process we are recovering our identities, we are recognising ourselves in the community, we are meeting again and step by step we are leaving behind all these years of municipal governments that have been so disastrous for the history of the community.
Pressenza: In Santiago people who sleep in the commune vote, but also many people who come to work there or use it in their lives as inhabitants of the Metropolitan Region. What differentiates the humanist proposal from the rest of the electoral offer for Santiago?
HK: Sometimes nobody sees Santiago. We are in the centre and we don’t even look at each other precisely because of that. We want to put Santiago back in front of us, so that we can look at each other again.
The humanist proposal for a new type of municipality has four key and fundamental pillars: First, active non-violence as a new way of expressing ourselves to the world, as a great tool for profound social and personal transformation. Secondly, rather than non-discrimination, I prefer to speak of love of diversity. Our proposal is born out of a deep love of great diversity and we can clearly see that active nonviolence and diversity go hand in hand and do not exist one without the other. Thirdly, the expression of horizontality, or as we say from humanism: neither less than you, nor more than you, the equal of you. It is to recognise ourselves as neighbors, as part of the same community, of the same construction, to recognize a horizontal relationship is to recognise ourselves as human, it is to recognise a new way of constructing democracy, and finally libertarianism. And here we are clear, to be libertarian is the opposite of capitalism, the opposite of this neoliberalism that has caused so much damage. To be libertarian is to respond to the profound ideals that put the human being at the centre of the search for a society of good living. To be libertarian is to love and respect not only my freedom, but also the freedom of others, even if I never get to know them. To be libertarian is to have absolute respect for the development of human beings without discrimination.
Pressenza: Can the city relate in a different way to nature and to the humans that inhabit it?
HK: In the last decades the predominant concept in cities has been an absolutely neoliberal concept with all the disastrous consequences for the lives of citizens. The profits of large construction companies have become more important than the well-being of our community, and in this way many public spaces have been razed to the ground, transforming squares into concrete spaces, for example. There is no place for the creation of community gardens, free sport without fees, space for workshop participants. From humanism we believe that there should be a new relationship between the city and nature, but this should be born from the intention of the communities with municipal support, putting the emphasis on a friendly relationship with the environment that allows us to create green spaces and also spaces where the community can raise their community gardens, in charge of the neighbourhood organisations.
Pressenza: In the midst of the pandemic and a global and national economic crisis, how are you approaching this election campaign?
HK: First of all it must be a clean campaign, and when we say a clean campaign we mean without political violence, with respect for the free expression of ideas and evenly for all candidates. But we also say that we do not want to see our city full of posters that are only faces and not proposals. We are interested in seeing projects, we believe in giving strength to virtual spaces, and on the ground talking to neighbours. We want ideas and projects to be expressed and not to dirty our streets. In the end those who make the most dirt are the candidates who come from other communities to look for spaces in Santiago and their community allies should be the first to denounce them.
Pressenza: We appreciate your reflections, Helmut, as well as the time you have taken to come here, to the Plaza de Armas where our capital city was founded. We wish you the best possibilities of communication with the inhabitants of this commune, so that the debate of ideas, so necessary nowadays and so vital for the transformations that we need, can develop. We will follow your campaign very closely, please send us your agendas, press releases and proposals. Thank you very much again!