Chile. The Convention and the Struggle in the Streets

Carlos Aznarez “Pancha” Fernández is a member of the Movimiento por el Agua y los Territorios (MAT), of the Coordinadora Feminista 8M and was a candidate for constituent for District 10, but above all these references, she is a woman who vindicates the essence of revolt and the use of the street as a tool of pressure to fight against the fascism of the government of Sebastián Piñera. We discussed with her the Constituent Convention and the new developments that are taking place in Chile.

How do you view the new period that has opened with the beginning of the sessions of the Constituent Convention? I ask this knowing that you have always been in the streets fighting with the uprising, even on that very hectic day of the inaugural ceremony.

That day I was soaked to the skin, the tear gas came, they threw water on us, it was a very tense moment. What is revealed is the dignity of the people through the social movements’ conventional men and women. That is why we began to mobilize early in the morning to support and put pressure on this process. Beginning at 6 o’clock in the morning we attended a Mapuche ceremony in Monte Santa Lucia, where we joined Elisa Loncon and other comrades of the native peoples. Then there were mobilizations in various parts of the city and the country. There were simultaneous ceremonies in the Plaza de la Dignidad, with human rights groups, organizations of eye victims who met at the University of Chile, and 7 other points. And we were meeting in the Plaza de Armas and on the side of the former Congress, where spaces were made available for the participants to enter. From the Movimiento por el Agua y los Territorios we left room for three convention members to pass, the Coordinadora 8 de marzo also had the opportunity to leave the constituent on another side. We were there with chants, waiting, sharing this historic moment. And from one moment to the next, without any kind of provocation, they began to shoot at us with water and tear gas. In front of us there were members of the Movement of People in Struggle, with children, elderly people, suffocating from the tear gas.

I suppose that, immediately, inside the Ex-Congress they became aware of what was happening.

That’s right, we began to warn our convention members, and an important group of people from the People’s List said that they were not going to hold a session unless they stopped the repression of the people outside. Many went out to talk to the carabineros. In fact, Rodrigo Rojas, from the Lista por el Pueblo went to speak, we have the images, and the Carabineros doused him with water and chemicals. We were resisting, supporting and finally the water subsided a little and the session was resumed after two hours of suspension. Then came that wonderful moment that filled us with pride, which was the appointment of President Elisa Locon, a Mapuche woman, emblematic for the struggle and revitalization of the land, supported by Mapuche communities and organizations. Just think of it as a milestone, in such a colonial and racist country, that a woman is president, that she is initiating the Convention with a Mapuche greeting and at her side another ancestral companion as is the machi Francisca Linconao, who we must not forget had been in preventive prison twice at the hands of the current government, criminalized for an alleged link to a death by fire of a couple of landowners. Obviously she was innocent of this, her innocence is corroborated, her case was taken to the international authorities so that finally Machi Linconao was released. Today she is a constituent, together with Elisa Loncon.

Undoubtedly, an act of justice in every sense of the word.

We are talking about symbolic, restorative and powerful justice. But now we have a long way to go. Another of the big calls was to make visible the struggle for the freedom of the prisoners for fighting in the Revolt, and that of the Mapuche peoples, and this is why one of the first topics was going to be this. They arrived on the second day of the sessions and the rooms were not equipped, there was no internet, no alcohol gel, among many other things. All that day the organizations were outside demanding freedom for the prisoners so they had to suspend the sessions. Then the public universities offered their spaces. Once they were suspended for 24 hours to restart on Wednesday, with basic equipment. In the end, there was so much repudiation that the government official in charge of the management of this area, Francisco Alsina, had to resign. It is a mockery for the people, what the government does but we do not allow it. The right wing and the government are not in line with the people. They are not disputing in the order of ideas, but in one as basic as infrastructure, they did not even care: there was no day care center for the compañeras who go with their sons and daughters. they opened a random room, it is ridiculous, they do not assume responsibility for the policy of care. This Thursday they are debating on the issue of pardon and amnesty for the prisoners of the revolt and the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH), a State organism, was occupied by students and human rights people, to demand that the popular will be fulfilled and that this process be carried out.

I have a question,  if the pardon resolution goes ahead, is it binding, what force does it really have?

Some complexities to point out: the pardon is a law proposed by parties of the left to relatives of prisoners and prisoners of the revolt. So we, from the Coordinadora Feminista 8 de marzo, support the family, but we do not agree with the pardon. In what sense: it is that the pardon is restrictive and has a binding character. It is an amnesty proposal. It has difficulties, it restricts certain temporality in those who can be ascribed to the pardon law, which is rather an amnesty. This temporality excludes many who are in preventive detention. It excludes those who have been convicted and sentenced, that is complex. We have seen that, in some cases, they are convicted on the basis of falsehoods, as in San Antonio, where the person who testifies is the police investigating the case. So, it would have a binding character because it is an amnestied law, it is the powers of the state that enact it. What happens is that the Convention does not have a binding character, because it debates issues of a constituent nature. But we do believe, in this sense, that the popular will was fulfilled, that the Convention has the obligation to pressure the powers of the state, such as the Congress and the Presidency to sanction this pardon or amnesty proposal. In addition to extending this, including convicted prisoners, giving benefits to other political prisoners, that it also be a benefit to the Mapuche and that it extend the range and temporality.

 Apart from the fact that the right wing is present in the Convention, do they participate in the debates?

Absolutely, but let us remember that they do not have even a third in the Convention. In total, there are 155 constituents, but the “peace pact” imposed, in order to function, two thirds of the votes are required to approve decisions regarding the consecration of the rights of the Convention. For example, by simple decision the presidency and vice-presidency were elected. Therefore, with 78 votes, the president and vice-presidency can be achieved, as in the case of Jaime Bassa. The right wing is debating, but they are not the ones who have the power to veto. This is interesting. This does not mean that the communist parties, the Frente Amplio, the more institutional parties and the Concertación are positioning the issue. They do not have the weight of expansion that we have, with respect to what we understand as the pardon law. It is a case of dispute, but for us it is a marvelous achievement that the Convention is beginning with this debate.

With respect to the street, do you think that what happened on the day of the Constituent Assembly ceremony, the street full of people, is going to continue? Will the street continue to be the fundamental instrument of pressure, beyond what can be done in the Constituent Assembly?

One clear thing is that the process has decanted in this space of institutional incidence, with all the nuances, contradictions and tensions. We know that institutions have limits and edges. We are going to carry out the processes of transformation in the spaces of the territories, without hesitation, these processes are carried out in the streets. This is the spirit, but it is true that the pandemic restricts the capacity of mobilization. However, the day of the inauguration there were thousands of us in the streets, not only in Santiago, but also in other territories. In this context, and this has been a very sad fact, Luisa Toledo, the mother of the combatants in Chile, mother of three young men and women who were executed by the Chilean police under the Pinochet dictatorship, passed away. The Vergara Toledo brothers. She passed away a few days ago and there were more than 10 thousand people accompanying the coffin to the cemetery. This is the same spirit that we have carried since the revolt. As I was telling you, now the INDH is being taken over by several organizations, and other organizations outside the former congress, pending the debate that is taking place in the Convention. The territorial assemblies are being strengthened. Without a doubt we had a low moment, because we tried to protect life due to the pandemic and also to protect ourselves from repression. But the need to organize and mobilize is coming back with force. Let us hope that this will continue to be the spirit that accompanies this process.

Since you mentioned Luisa Toledo, what does she mean to you? We compare her to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, for her struggle and example of radicalism.

Luisa Toledo is from a territory of resistance against the civil-military dictatorship in Chile. Villa Francia, which with other towns were icons of resistance and popular organization against the dictatorship. They organized in barricades, common kitchens and all the struggles in the streets. She was also linked to grassroots Christianity, the popular Christianity of Liberation Theology. She comes from this tradition, her sons and daughters inherited this along with the participation in the MIR, Revolutionary Left Movement, emblematic in the resistance and struggle against the dictatorship. These organized young people were murdered and shot by the police, two of them near Luisa Toledo’s home. For three decades she has constantly fought for justice for her children. Literally all three cases were mowed down with no chance of arrest or imprisonment. Through Luisa’s strength, the case was pursued, but there is still no justice, those who orchestrated or carried out the killings are not incarcerated. Luisa became an icon of all the struggles accompanying the mother of the Mapuche Matias Catrileo, and those who lost their eyes in the revolt. She, together with her partner Manuel Vergara, are our great references. They were able to articulate these struggles, but also the hope of the people, Mapuche people, Chilean people, in different instances. Machi Francisca Linconao was present at her wake, all the organizations and social movements were there, we held vigils, we organized parades. In addition, in a wonderful way, she had a speech that touched us very much: she said that she was tired and that she saw that violence was necessary in response to structural violence. She was angry because she never managed to achieve truth, justice and reparation, so she connected with the radical nature of anger, but also with the radical nature of love.

Let’s move on to another topic: is it true that the Parliament would be willing to sanction the issue of equal marriage and the decriminalization of abortion? The news said that it would be a “gift” from Piñera before leaving.

We do not see it as a gift, but as a life-saving strategy. In fact, in the middle of the conflict, Piñera came out with this issue of equal marriage, knowing that the organizations have been fighting for years in spite of the governments in office. That is why I see it as a strategy to exit with some dignity that he lacks and thus end this process. The same with the decriminalization of abortion, but it has nothing to do with the struggle in Argentina. Here we say that the decriminalization of abortion is almost common sense, in this country for years even therapeutic abortion was criminalized. Then, we had abortion on three grounds and now for years feminists, women’s organizations for reproductive rights, have been fighting for decriminalization, but we must not forget that our horizon is legalization. Neither of the two proposals has anything to do with Piñera’s administration, but simply that he is making this lifeline visible in order to remind us of this miserable and criminalizing government policy he has pursued during these years.

It is similar to what Macri did in Argentina, when he tried to divert attention. Thank you Pancha, we will keep in touch.

We are experiencing beautiful moments, although with contradictions, we are willing to undergo these processes, understanding that the only real and concrete way to achieve the transition is not to abandon the streets. I am always happy to chat with you, understanding that the struggles are trans-frontier.

Translation by Internationalist 360°