1. Given the fact, President Piñera presented Chile as «an oasis in the midst of the restless Latin America» just a bit before the uprising, we have no choice but to think of Chile as a sleeping giant. Under the calm surface, what were the social dynamics that set the stage for the current nationwide uprising?
The current administration has been investing very much in highlighting Chile’s stability and business-friendly policies to the outside world. Many Chileans believed in this dream as well, hoping that a continued commitment to the neoliberal economic policies implemented under the Pinochet dictatorship would eventually lift them into the middle class. However, it is impossible to ignore how the growing gap between rich and poor determines every aspect of life in this country. If you have money, you have access to the private healthcare system as well as to the best schools and universities. If you don’t, you’re locked into a perpetual struggle to stay afloat. Salaries remain incredibly low in the face of a very high cost of living, leading many people to go into debt. This reality is obvious to the average Chilean and many have organized in social movements to attack the system from different angles. The current uprising wasn’t a complete surprise; it was the evolution of 30 years of movements demanding the eradication of the economic legacy of the dictatorship.
2. It seems that the main demands of the protests are the following: the immediate resignation of president Piñera and a new constitution. Let us imagine that both will be satisfied in a short time. What will actually change in Chile? Are these demands mostly focusing on the symbolic level or the cure for the social inequalities passes through them?
I think the Piñera administration would very much like this to all go away. After the first weekend of rebellion, he began offering token reforms as if he was distributing candy on Halloween. However, these reforms were not what the people wanted. If a new constitution was offered, people would reject it immediately, because the demand is for a constituent assembly from below; that is, a constitution generated by the people rather than from the government. If we can achieve this process, I believe it would be very important to the country. The constitution was written during the dictatorship and serves as a legal basis for the cruel economic policies people are rising up against. It also protects some authoritarian practices people wish to see eliminated. Of course, Piñera’s resignation and a new constitution would
be enough to satisfy a big portion of those currently in revolt. That said, others are hoping that the process of constituent assemblies can be a way of generating direct democracy on the neighbourhood level. If woven together, these horizontal neighbourhood organizations could become the basis of true counter-power capable of demanding much more.
3. Watching videos of the protests or viewing photos of the demos, we observe mostly Chilean flags and only a few leftist, communist or anarchist signs and banners. Thus, we suppose that their presence is pale or not discrete by choice. It’s a fact that during social
uprisings, the organized groups tend to dissolve into the masses. We wonder which is their role? If and how do they try to deviate the mood of the uprising to more anticapitalist or revolutionary ways?
It’s absolutely true that political parties are not mobilizing under their flags in the larger demonstrations and marches. On one level, this shows how unified people feel at this moment — as Chileans, rather than as members of a particular party. Since the beginning of the uprising, several new symbols have emerged, including a version of the Chilean flag that is almost completely black; this dark image represents how people feel about Chilean democracy at the moment. There is also the fact that these protests are targeting more than just the conservative Piñera administration: the left parties who have participated in the government since the return of democracy in 1990 are also guilty in the eyes of the people. When in power, both left- and right-wing governments maintained the neoliberal policies they inherited and resorted to violence against the population. In fact, despite their large bases, the left-wing parties have often lagged behind the country’s many impressive social movements. Of course, these parties are eager to be the mediators between the people and the government right now and are working hard to leverage current events into future electoral wins. The likely result is that their efforts will split and weaken the movement.
4. The police brutality is obvious and the military is present on the streets. Many analysts claim that one of the reasons for the protests’ success is that the young people don’ t have reminiscences from the Pinochet dictatorship and that fact makes them fearless. How do the Chilean nowadays feel about state repression? Do they feel that another coup d’etat is possible? How they organize and defend their assemblies, their protests, their political
I spent the first 30 years of my life in the US and when I arrived in Chile, I was shocked by the popular dislike or even hatred of the “pacos” or cops in Chile. Even people who weren’t politically inclined would have a negative view of them. The “fearless generation” initiated amazing student rebellions in 2006 and again from 2011 to 2013, rallying a huge base of support around demands for basic rights such as education and an end to privatization in all its forms. Chilean high school students are known to regularly engage in street fighting with police and have subsequently been brutalized by them, including accounts of torture. All this happened under “democracy.” In the current moment, you can see this abuse taking place at a terrifying scale: police are using crowd control weapons to main and even kill young protesters. At this moment, over 200 people have lost eyes. This is in addition to a long list of other human rights violations, including kidnapping and sexual torture. Even people who haven’t been directly injured are being traumatized through exposure to so much violence. For the older generation, the State of Emergency was particularly horrific. For the first time since Pinochet was voted out of power, the military was used to repress the Chilean population. Many people felt like the dictatorship had returned. I personally felt terrified watching tanks roll down my street. I’d never experienced anything like that before. Even though the State of Emergency is now over, the police are essentially acting like the military and the level of violence is quite high. In response, protesters have created their own “first responder” networks through which medical professionals can volunteer their services. You can even see medical units armed with protective shields charging through the protests in order to offer aid. This week, there have been many open calls to donate medical supplies; this reflects the shocking number of people who have been injured. In addition, groups of friends, neighbors, and comrades have instituted “check-in” practices through WhatsApp in order to ascertain everyone’s safety at the end of the day.
Regarding the potential for a coup, I don’t think it’s likely and I haven’t heard any speculation on that topic. Despite all the protests, the government is still remarkably stable and I don’t see any particular force ready to rise up to topple it — from the left or the right.
5. Chile has one of the most powerful feminist movements. Do you think that this has influenced the current situation? What is the feminist approach of the protests?
I am part of the Coordinadora Feminista 8 de Marzo (the March 8th Feminist Coordinator), the coalition that, starting in 2018, has been the main political body of the movement. Something I find interesting is like the other movements that achieved major mobilizations over the years (the students and the movement against the corrupt pension system), Chile’s feminist movement really focused on the cruelty of neoliberalism. In other Latin American countries, the feminist movements had demands to end femicides or to legalize abortion as their animating issue. Meanwhile, Chilean feminists marched under the banner “Against the Precaritization of Life.” In a way, this latest period of intense feminist activity was the runway to launch the plane of full rebellion. This was because CF8M had theorized that feminism was a force capable of uniting the country’s many social movements — movements that were reactivating thanks the energy generated by the feminist wave of 2018. Looking back from this moment, I think I can say their theory was the correct one: the feminists were able to partially unify the left and generate alliances amongst the students, No+AFP, labor unionists, and migrant rights organizations. These alliances represent a potential source of horizontal structure for the rebellion; unfortunately, cracks are already showing as different forces begin to split along ideological lines or even fight for power. That said, on the surface, the movement is booming. Last Friday’s feminist march was exceptionally large with terrific energy. Both organized and independent feminists are engaged in near-constant acts of protest and propaganda. One of the slogans that arose in 2018 is, “Never again to the back row; there will never again be a revolution without us.” Feminists certainly put that commitment into practice in this rebellion.
6. There is a long history of sexual and political violence in Chile and Latin America in crucial historical moments like Chile is experiencing now. Do you think that all this gender violence expresses an effort for gender discipline to the women’s bodies in order to control them?
Absolutely, yes. It has been the position of the feminist movement for many years that state violence and patriarchal violence are deeply connected. During the dictatorship, women were raped and sexually tortured. This was not only to individually disciple “the enemy,” but to provide a terrifying example of what would happen to you if you didn’t stay meekly at home. Now, we have complaints of rape and sexual torture under democracy. You can see why people will never forgive Piñera for this, no matter what he offers.