Chile: One Year Later, the Revolt Against Piñera Remains Massive

Carlos Aznarez
https://www.straitstimes.com/sites/default/files/articles/2020/10/19/rk_chile_191020.jpgDemonstrators participate in a march at the Plaza Italia in Santiago, Chile, on Oct 18, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

After the massive mobilization that took place this Sunday in Chile, it is necessary to discuss everything that has been happening during this day of remembrance of the first anniversary of the beginning of the popular revolt against the government of Sebastián Piñera. For this, we contacted Gabriel Cardozo, a colleague from Channel 3 in La Victoria.

These are days when many people on the continent are feeling the pulse of everything that has been happening in Bolivia, but also in Chile. In the latter case, because of the grave situation that the Chilean people are facing, but also because of the massive outpouring of people who took to the streets to celebrate the first anniversary of a revolt which today remains largely intact. What is your perception of the situation, as a popular communicator who has been covering the mobilizations in the Chilean capital?

First of all, I would like to tell you that this Sunday’s event has been going on for several days. This 18th was very present in the consciousness of the people. Before that, it was even said that the celebration had to be on October 18 and not on September 18. Somehow, by removing that nationalism from the national holidays, which are in the midst of the pandemic period as well. The importance of October 18th for the citizens is shown, in this case more than just the national holiday. Behind this there is a framework that has been in place for a long time, the discontent, the inequality, this kind of opening of the eyes, with respect to the economic models, in this case that of Chile, and with some violence emanating from that place. By uniting in the street, making themselves available to different collectives, this 18th arrives as a joint preparation throughout the country, and represents a great expression of the struggle built from the different territories.

It is noteworthy that the revolt has continued throughout the year. In spite of the pandemic, we have managed to go out into the streets of different towns throughout Chile. But Sunday was very special, in the sense that they were warming up their engines during these days and it exploded in a very massive demonstration. We saw images of the Plaza de la Dignidad, after the repression and the usual confrontations with the Carabineros, full of young people of all ages. Did you feel the same, that people needed to demonstrate and show their power and massiveness?

On Sunday the 18th there were 500,000 to one million people assembled. This coincided with a great march that has continued, also very large, of people who at the same time are in favor of the Approval in the constituent plebiscite of Sunday 25-O. The whole theme of the plebiscite is established. There were very different slogans than last year. Between the previous October and this period there is an advance, but it is also a step backwards with respect to the political situation. The demand for the Constituent Assembly was born with much more clarity than before and now we have reached the 18th with a plebiscite that has been agreed upon with the political elite.

There is much behind what the Approval means and opening the door to shake off the murderous Constitution of Pinochet. It also has a lot to do with the differences that exist on this issue. Such massiveness is also due to people in their 60s or 70s, but I also saw very young people, I saw children, people with families who were commemorating this 18th, something that has much more importance than the patriotic spirit of September 18th.

One year after that first 18th, apart from this difference in the scenario of the plebiscite, have some of the initial demands for which the revolt broke out been fulfilled?

Between the last 18th and the current 18th, the political elites have criminalized the protests and have delivered absolutely nothing in terms of what the advance of the citizens’ demands entails. This is a very clear vision among the age range of the people, which is why there are children coming as the new generations. We could see this in the gestation of this movement, the role of the ACES (Coordinating Association of Secondary Students), which are the organized students who have been fighting internally against the PT, the measure of university selection.

There is also an age range of 25 down, very massive, and from 25 to 35. Like the university students, those who have already been trained and have a tremendous debt because of a disastrous public policy, one that favors the large banks of the country. These age ranges finally converge with a citizen demand that is much broader and much more clearly respected than last year’s.

The massiveness is about celebration. There were lunches, common meals, social organizations that came to support our needs, and of course, street commerce. But in general there was a high level of willingness to collaborate in all areas. And speaking of collaboration, once again the health brigades were there, putting their chests to the bullets, providing care for the wounded, whether from the tear gas or the street fights that broke out yesterday between soccer bars. Last year this did not happen, there was a lot of brotherhood. Different demands cause a turnaround and these misfortunes occur. But in general it was massive and very open to the people. The most important thing was to see whole families, related to the generation of the 60/70’s, and the generation of the children coming up to take charge of this generational and political change here in Chile.

One thing was also evident: in the early morning there were the carabineros. The threat of putting 40,000 carabineros and carabineras on the street. In one moment, that repression was broken, the people advanced on the square and took it over. In reality, this day was a victory over state violence, because beyond the fact that the youths on the “front line” put up strong resistance so that the cops would not advance on the Alameda, the Plaza de la Dignidad belonged to the people for many hours. This, on the level of symbolism, is a potent fact after a year of popular uprising on the 18th.

In general, the threat is always there, because Santiago’s quartermaster is commanded by Felipe Guevara, who has been very harsh with demonstrations. However, some time ago, people no longer asked for permission, and are not worried about it, and take the street because they feel that it is a right. But on the other hand, those who are in favor of the Rejazo (in the plebiscite), also act without permission and are protected by carabineros. The government has a political agenda and what can be seen is that within the carabineros a political profile is favored by the high command. This is one of the problems, whether or not it is in accordance with the Constitution. Here there are problems of formation that have to do with the legacy of the dictatorship and the development of this whole repressive system.

Even though the people were there, the confrontation with the carabineros was normal, no matter how many carabineros there were, the people chose to take their place, to challenge them. They contend until it is won. And that can lead to people being injured, detained, gassed, sprayed with water and chemicals. The different forms of repression are related to this dispute. But on Sunday they were largely outnumbered by the crowd, they didn’t have any capacity to influence anything in that place. So, the square was taken over completely. I arrived from La Moneda and went ahead, other people came from behind, covering from La Reja, which is also an area with a lot of history, to the Línea de Francia. You could see so many people and this made it extremely difficult for the carabineros.

Clearly, there was a dispute, as always, but they did not have the capacity to deal with the amount of people who were there demonstrating. This lasted until late, despite the dangers of darkness, the degree of repression, and the number of people who arrived for this confrontation. There is always the conflict, the wounded, we could see some people wounded in the face. I think this is going to continue. I don’t think it has a stopping point, as far as we can see.

After Plaza La Dignidad the struggle took place in the towns and there we have to lament a young man (Aníbal Villalba) that was murdered, in the town of La Victoria, where your canal is located.

The truth is that there are a couple of videos that are circulating that contradict the official version, which pointed out that there was a confrontation between the groups. The truth is that when you have a skunk (armored car of the carabineros), and in front of these pacos, only stones as a weapon of defense and a citizen demand that is expressed in their stones, it is clear that the inequality is tremendous. The boy had nothing else to defend himself and was shot in a cowardly manner.

Here it is about wanting to justify the unjustifiable. If there is an assassination, it is necessary to assume the political responsibilities that a political office requires. Here a young man died as a result of a repressive action by agents of the state. And that is a violation of human rights, here and elsewhere. This is the life of a boy who did not deserve to die. In addition, he was protesting in the street at his age, because he understood that the struggle was his, and he ended up dead because of a bullet that apparently came from a policeman who was at the scene.

That is a grave fact and he is not the first person to die during this period in a supposed democracy. If that is an answer to problems, we ask ourselves what democracy is, if you can’t protest if you can’t go out peacefully in the street and say “Listen I don’t agree with this”, “I don’t want this for my future”, “I can’t do it” and the answer is that they can kill you, then political responsibility is very important.

This leads to something connected with what you said before, which is the issue of the Approval of the plebiscite. The two climates at the level of the revolt, the climate of a year ago and the climate of today. How are you looking at this plebiscite?

In general, what you see is that there are two clear options, one is rejection and the other is Approval. Within that there are also a number of people who disagree, who expressed their discomfort because they feel that it is indeed a “political kitchen”. We must look back, because the Constitution designed by (former Pinochet Senator Jaime) Guzman, has too deep authoritarian keys. The political elite figures who manage all this are the only ones capable of opening the process of an agreement amongst their own peers. It was an impossible door to open, the citizens’ demands open it, but on the other hand, approval is nothing more than approval.

But then, what is important about this call?

The most important thing is the mixed convention or the constitutional convention. Here the people feel that their power is not expressed in those options. The political elites and in general, the parties are too decadent, they have lost a substantial amount of credibility because people feel they have been betrayed. This deepening of the malaise that has different aspects ends up being expressed in the street and the street is telling people today “they I don’t agree with this”. So, there can be different views, but the most important thing, in my opinion, is that this process must be sustained from all quarters.

And the same communication must take place throughout Latin America, through, for example, the brothers in Bolivia who are regaining dignity after the coup d’état of the Bolivian right wing, and it must be expressed in the community of the people, so that it reaches a more important level, which is our sense of life, our rights. Why do we talk about taxes? I ask people, why do you pay taxes? What do you get for those taxes? You are doing a dignified job for which you are being paid, well or badly, but you pay taxes even to buy milk, and you are not receiving either quality education or quality health care, you do not have pensions, you are being totally violated in all your rights. It is important to understand that the macro system is an abusive system, it is not a system designed so that everyone can have the same benefits, that is not the case.

That is precisely what capitalism and its derivatives are.

Here are the great powers, the elites. It is extremely important to understand how political power is dealt with. It is a democracy of power, disciplinary, related to the model’s sequence. This is advancing and producing a dissociation from the political. This dissociation is also expressed in the street, because there is no trust. But on the other side we also must see and understand that from now on we have duties to fulfill. Democracy is not just about crossing the line and saying “hey, I chose Juanito or Pepito, or whoever”. This has to do with auditing. People have to know how their state works, in what way they are favored or not favored. What they do not favor or do not like, they will have to form a critical opinion about.

This is the way it works. It can be accomplished through the streets, it can be accomplished through voting, it can be accomplished through education. I think that popular knowledge is currently more inclined to build that place of educational integration, which is something unofficial, academic for those who can dictate it, but I know many people who have experience of how a land takeover is set up. That also has to do with people’s willingness to be able to build in a different way. From moving to such an individual paradigm shift, to the collective, in certain phases. But also the person remains a little closed, while still raising “my family”, “my child”. In that place one has to express one’s opinion and say: well this struggle is not for you, it is for your son or your grandson, it is for those who are coming.

That expression is clearly marked in the Approval, and there are many people in favor, and it is expected that the number of votes will be much more substantial, in spite of the fact that the plebiscite does not have an obligatory clause. In spite of that there will be a high participation and it would be easily won, according to surveys, in accordance with what is seen in the street and the number of alliances that can be seen in different places in Santiago.

Translation by Internationalist 360°