The health of the poor does not matter to us as a society, not even when we talk about children. We simply do not see the suffering of others. And don’t tell me that it can’t be solved. We could use all, absolutely all, of the wealth that lithium will bring to take care of our children and old people, instead of handing it over privately and settling for royalties or taxes.

By Esteban Celis Vilchez

When people talk about the solidarity of Chileans, classically manifested in that pathetic walk of egos and marketing that is the Telethon, I can only continue to be amazed at our infinite capacity to lie to ourselves in search of a less intolerable image. But things are what they are, not what we want them to be.

The traits of our collective behavior are deplorable, whether we like it or not. Let us look at some of them.

We tend to betray, disappoint trusts, and smile until the last minute at those we will harm when they least expect it. Beyond all that a coup d’état means in terms of a betrayal of one’s oaths and of a President, perhaps a particularly clear manifestation of the abjection of Pinochet’s character was that presidential sash he gave to Carlos Prats for when he had to assume the presidency on an interim basis in the event of Salvador Allende’s trip abroad.

Afterward, his regime of hired assassins, financed with everyone’s money, would assassinate him in Argentina. In general, we Chileans are good at betraying others. It is impossible not to recall Paulina Fernández Trabucco’s A History of Betrayal in Chile.

We also betray in the private and the small, in companies and couples, in universities and in schools, in football clubs and mandates. There are even professions, such as lawyers, who specialize in defending the interests of whoever hires them, betraying the truth and justice whenever it seems necessary because, curiously, lawyers believe that these two issues are not their business, but those of the investigator or the judge. Hence the infinite mediocrity of our judicial system, in which all its actors participate.

We tend towards a shoddy individualism, which is not only selfish but profoundly foolish. The fact that everyone insists that the pay-as-you-go systems have failed – something completely false – and that most people want a system of individual capitalization – a proven failure in our country – is the best manifestation of foolishness.

There are still those who are in love with the “Not with my money” that the AFPs themselves have introduced. There are still a great many people who want to individually capitalize on their meager income and believe that this will give them access to a decent pension. They do not understand something simple: that social security cannot be based on the individual, but on collective behavior and solidarity to protect each one of us who are part of a community.

Let’s look at another example of who we are. More than 460 people lost one of their eyes in defiance of a government that did not hesitate to violate human rights through Carabineros. Violating human rights is an atrocity. But after all that, shortly after that, a new constitution was rejected which, with all the flaws it may have, undoubtedly placed the country at an inflection point that challenged the political and economic power of the elite.

Ultimately, the 62% of Chileans who voted rejection did so over the eye trauma of those who risked their lives so that we would be voting. According to the Chilean Human Rights Commission, only 0.25% (yes, you read that right, 0.25%) of the complaints of human rights violations have had a conviction. In other words, we are a society that is committed to impunity. The State of Chile defends itself against claims against the State with shameful exceptions and sad denialism. That is what we are.

In Chile, our children are beaten and abused, with the tolerance and silent complicity of an adult and indolent world; our old men and women, whom we call “seniors” to show more respect, languish and die in abandonment and the greatest sadness; our workers are exploited with wages that barely mitigate the anguish of those who care for their children.

We also mistreat women by ignoring their contributions and paying them less for equal work; we build an education system that segregates in favor of the few and mutilates the dreams of so many children whose hopeful eyes dim before they reach adolescence and fade when they realize they will not be invited to be happy; our judicial system viciously persecutes the poor and treats the powerful with a servility that causes shame. We are a cruel society, where those who fall from grace find themselves alone, completely orphaned.

In 2022, according to a report by the Ministry of Health, more than 44,000 people died while waiting for treatment and were on a waiting list (see link). Of course, this does not mean that these 44,000 people died because they were not treated promptly; in other words, only a fraction of these people died because of the pathology for which they were waiting for treatment. But that “fraction”, which could be 5 or 10%, being conservative, represents a huge and unacceptable number of people who died because of our negligence. That is cruelty in its purest form.

Now, let’s look exclusively at the issue of waiting times. The Ministry of Health states that the median waiting time for surgery is 289 days, while the median waiting list for a consultation is 240 days. Few Chileans have the privilege of being able to have access to medicines, medical equipment, and specialist consultations in a matter of days when faced with pain, the need for surgery, or a medical opinion.

But many people, very many people, have to wait 289 days for an operation or 240 days to ask the doctor about an ailment. All that time without effective treatment means, in many cases, a serious worsening of the health condition associated with the pathology. That is cruelty in its purest form.

This is the most progressive government we could have. The one that could be more sensitive to the pain of others. The one that could be more obsessed than any other to mitigate so much avoidable suffering. But there are still abused children, abandoned old people with ridiculous pensions, prisons for the poor, and house arrests in the plots of the powerful. But let us not blame a government with its hands tied and without power in Congress, for our schizophrenic political system and our even more schizophrenic electorate determine governments without parliamentarians (i.e. some are voted in to govern, but others to legislate).

And, again, there are the poor, always forgotten, always neglected. The health of the poor does not matter to us as a society, not even when we talk about children. We simply do not see the suffering of others. And don’t tell me that it can’t be solved. It would be enough to recover the natural wealth from the hands of those who hijacked it; we could use all, absolutely all, of the wealth that lithium will bring to care for our children and old people, instead of handing it over privately and settling for royalties or taxes.

But for that, as for the half-liter of milk, we have to have a different kind of commitment to the poor and a different human scale to confront the powerful. That is why, among many other things, and despite the sadness it causes me to say, Boric is not and will not be Allende.