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A Fight Against Neoliberalism: Over a Million Chileans Protest Amid Violent Crackdown

Web ExclusiveOctober 28, 2019
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More than 1 million Chileans flooded the streets Friday in massive peaceful demonstrations over inequality, high cost of living and privatization, in the largest protest since the fall of the dictatorship. We continue our conversation with Chilean activist Alondra Carrillo Vidal and Macarena Gómez-Barris, founder and director of the Global South Center and chairperson of Social Science and Cultural Studies at the Pratt Institute.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you Part 2 of our discussion about the mass uprising in Chile, where a million people flooded the streets Friday in massive peaceful demonstrations over inequality, high cost of living and privatization. The protests drew more than 5% of Chile’s population, followed days of widespread civil unrest and a violent police and military crackdown across Chile. On Saturday, President Sebastián Piñera announced a major reshuffling in his Cabinet and vowed to ease the military-imposed curfew. At least 18 people have been killed, hundreds more shot and wounded, since protests erupted October 19th amidst mounting reports of brutality and torture by Chilean authorities. Last week, President Piñera declared war against protesters, calling the people’s movement, quote, “a powerful enemy who is willing to use violence without any limits.”

PRESIDENT SEBASTIAN PIÑERA: [translated] The protesters are at war against all good Chileans who want to live in democracy and peace. General Iturriaga, who is in charge of dealing with this state of emergency, has been able to deploy 9,500 men to protect your peace, your tranquility, your rights and your liberty. I want to express my gratitude to these 9,500 people of the armed forces, the military, who are confronting these violent people and criminals.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations is sending a team to Chile to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses against the protesters. The protests in Chile began in response to a subway fare hike and have grown into a mass uprising against neoliberalism and demands of political reform. The president canceled the fee increase, but the protests have continued.

For more of our discussion, we bring you our two guests, professor Macarena Gómez-Barris, founder and director of the Global South Center and chair of the Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, author of several books, including Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile. Her mother worked with the Allende government, and Macarena came to the U.S. when her family sought political exile just after the September 11, 1973, coup that brought Pinochet to power.

And joining us from Santiago, Chile, via Democracy Now! video stream is Alondra Carrillo Vidal, a spokeswoman for Chile’s largest feminist advocacy group, known as Coordinadora Feminista 8M. “Ocho M” is “8M” for March 8th, International Women’s Day. The group organized the largest feminist mobilization since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship on that day this past year.

So, Alondra, as we continue the discussion of this mass uprising that has continued even after the president canceled the subway fee hikes, can you talk about the response of the president and the Chilean government, the violence that the protesters have been met with?

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes. Well, almost 100 people have lost their sight. That’s like —

AMY GOODMAN: Have been blinded?

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes. They have been shot in the eyes by the police. Also, many —

AMY GOODMAN: So they’re using live bullets?

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: They’re using these like little bullets.

AMY GOODMAN: Rubber bullets.

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes, yes. Oh, it’s not just rubber. It’s also — it’s some kind of metal. I don’t know the word in English.

AMY GOODMAN: Lead bullets.

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes. So, but they have also taken out selectively people from their houses, mostly student leaderships. They have also exercised sexual political violence. They have raped people — not just women, also men, gay men or men that are queer. They have tortured many, many people. They also occupied the central station of the subway, Baquedano, as a torture center. That was discovered by the Institution of Human Rights here in Chile. They have deployed mass violence with, of course, the use of tear gas and contaminated water against the people and against the mass that is demonstrating on the streets. They have — yes, I believe they have used almost every way of political violence against the people.

AMY GOODMAN: And the language of the president — let me put this question to professor Macarena Gómez-Barris. You certainly knew the brutality of the Pinochet regime. You have President Piñera referring to the protesters as criminals and terrorists. Can you talk about what this means? And talk about the comparison of what’s happening now to what happened back when your family ultimately left, the rise of Pinochet.

MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: Well, this discourse or this rhetoric of the enemy of the state is certainly one we know. It was used against social dissidents in a moment against Salvador Allende’s supporters, and it was part and integral to kind of practices of state violence. So, this is rhetoric that has continued, and it’s resurfaced, because, in Piñera’s Cabinet and Piñera and the military themselves, there’s a deep root that goes back to the Pinochet regime. This is a continuation in many ways.

So, we talk about political transition and la transición política in Chile, and the idea of a transition to political democracy. But this transition, which is now, I think, officially over, we can say, really never happened in the sense that the kind of infrastructures of the military regime continue to be there, as I discussed before, in terms of the Constitution, but also the kind of increased security state that’s happened in, as I said, indigenous territories. And we know this because there’s been a kind of armament that is increased, buying and purchasing of weapons. If you look at the kind of suiting up of the police and the military, there’s a sense of a kind of expanded security regime and apparatus.

And so, really, this rhetoric of the enemy of the state is a kind of anti-terrorist rhetoric from the Cold War, and it has, of course, precursors in the colonial regime. And this has been used to criminalize a population, as your other guest said, who’s living very precarious conditions. Forty percent of people — you know, the kind of most radical inequality in Latin America [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, interestingly, Chile is one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America.

MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: But, of course, as you know, that is a skewed income, with Piñera being at the top of that pyramid, one of the richest people himself, in a country —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who he is.

MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: So, Piñera is an owner, a vast — a multimillionaire, someone who owns means of communication, someone who has been president before, and someone who is of the far right and believes in a kind of national security doctrine as a previous — you know, during his previous administration. And so he has strong connections to a rising global right. And it wouldn’t be — you know, this Piñera, in his second incarnation, has a lot more global support, because — as we see a kind of rising fascist orientation in the world and we see certain kinds of domination of the means of communication here.

The one thing I wanted to go back to is the security regime is also connected — you know, as was spoken about, the violence in the street is also there’s a lot of censorship happening right now, media censorship. We see a lot of the human rights documentation that cannot get uploaded, a kind of struggle to get information out, and a kind of taking over of the social media apparatus, as well. And so, the last thing I want to say about that is the kind of resting on a fake news. And fake news has proliferated under Piñera. It was used for some Mapuche territories to suggest that Mapuches were committing certain crimes that were actually fabricated at many levels. They were criminalized. And that same idea of criminalization is now happening against the so-called subversives and the population who’s this massive, massive protest, as you well said. So, I think it’s really important to highlight this, because the kind of fake news or what’s called montaje, literal fabrication of events, has been used to actually not get information out to the international realm.

AMY GOODMAN: Alondra Carrillo Vidal, if you can talk about the healthcare that people are receiving, as you talk about the number of people who have been injured and the number who have died. The Guardian had a piece about Posta, which is a health clinic where they didn’t have enough aid to be able to help the activists who had been shot or wounded. Can you talk about this?

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes. This eruption, social eruption, has been preceded by a crisis in the healthcare system. Hospitals have not got any supplies to confront what they have to deal with every day. So, it’s not a surprise that now these postas, these little hospitals, cannot really confront what they have to deal with. It’s a crisis in the public healthcare system, because it’s been — it has no funds whatsoever. And most money that is placed for health goes to private health, private health systems, so of course the hospitals cannot deal with what they have to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Macarena Gómez-Barris, can you talk about the constituent assemblies, what they are?

MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: Yeah, I think this is a really important aspect, both the kind of privatization, deregulation of many sectors in society, the healthcare, across the board, in terms of social security, retirement and these low pensions. So this has produced a kind of relative deprivation in society that wasn’t about these Metro 4% hikes, you know, and the kind of retraction of that. It’s a longer systematic dismantling of the social system.

And what’s happened in the process has been a sense of loss of faith in political parties, loss of faith in the so-called transition to democracy, a kind of elite democracy that has not represented people’s interests and their economic, financial and basic interests, or met their expectations of what a democracy looks like — right? — in terms of supposedly an economic miracle, an oasis in Latin America, as Piñera put it. Well, that oasis has not been true, and so people have turned to other sources of social power, other dimensions of political projects, and have created a number of different forums, through constituent assemblies, that has really thickened what we’d call civil society or a kind of alternative to the formal political parties.

So, let me give you an example. In 2006, you get the rise of the Pingüino movement, the movement of middle-age children that, of course, have come to age now and are living this kind of new collective moment. That school movement and that turn away from the kinds of formal education that were happening, the squeeze on the population, the ransoming of the future, the fact that university tuition was increasing, led to the 2011 protests, that were a massive student uprising that you know and you saw certain kinds of leaders in motion there — really important, Camila Vallejo, Jackson, etc. And that kind of massive student protest, that was also at the key critical moment globally about debt, about student debt, and against this kind of fast-food universities that were privatized everywhere and increasing debt for the masses because of the tuition there, really created a texture of social movements, fomented social movements, from the young people, the college-age people, again, all who have come to age.

So, by the time you get the feminist movements and the uprising that are happening in the south with indigenous peoples, you’re really getting a transversal, coalitional anti-state movement that has been quite thickened in its radical democracy on the ground. And this is a kind of texture for what we see in the future potentially. This is not one leader that can be co-opted or a series of leaders that can be co-opted by political parties. This is a quite rich texture of movements that has actually been criminalized, but in fact we actually see real radical democracy in motion on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Alondra Carrillo Vidal, what do you see happening now? We’re almost in November. Does the U.N. climate summit that’s to take place in December in Santiago — is this a major issue for activists in Chile right now, when thousands of climate activists from all over the globe, really very much led by indigenous people, who are the head of the leadership in the whole movement against climate change — is there — does that have an influence on what is happening now? Is there any discussion of how you’re organizing? Is it possible it would be canceled by the president?

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: It has got no influence at all, I believe. People are not talking about that right now. Maybe the people who are more politicized are concerned with what will happen with those events, because, before that, we have the APEC, and most of political leaders will gather here and discuss this —

AMY GOODMAN: For the APEC summit, the Asia-Pacific Economic conference.

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes. And it’s supposed to take place here. What people are saying is that that event cannot take place here. The president wants to have that event because it’s, of course, really important for the image of Chile and because it can help them to create this state of normality. But COP25 — that is the other event — it’s really not been discussed on a mass level. What people are doing now is that people are organizing, like the professor said, in local assemblies that are discussing what to do next. And that is what is currently going on. It’s really a constituent power that some political sectors are trying to conduct towards a formal constituent assembly, in the margins of the state. And what’s now going on is that people are discussing whether they want that or not.

AMY GOODMAN: And the protests in places like Ecuador, that preceded the mass protests here in Chile, quite astounding that, you know, that also rose from an increase in transportation fare, but that Piñera immediately tried to increase the subway fare, which triggered this, even though he has pulled that back, canceled that. And then what’s happening in Brazil with the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and the indigenous people, especially with the fires in the Amazon, the lungs of the planet, speaking out against what they see as genocide against them.

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes. What we have said as feminists is that we are now in a period of crisis. It’s not just happening here. It’s a global crisis of capitalism. And, of course, it takes its shape here as a crisis of the lives of women because of the increase of male violence that traverses our life in almost every aspect, and is, of course, also a crisis of health — I’m sorry, environmental crisis. We have here what we call zonas de sacrificio, sacrifice zones or places, where life cannot be sustained much longer because of the pollution and because of the destruction of the territory conducted by the main energetic and natural resources companies and factories, etc. So, yes, it’s a shared crisis, I believe, in almost all Latin America, that is opening a historical turning point where alternatives are being created. They are not created right now. I believe this political process of uprising is the context of that creation of an alternative against neoliberal capitalism.

AMY GOODMAN: And Professor Gómez-Barris?

MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: Yes. I think that climate change and those questions are deeply related. I think people express the idea of climate change differently. I think in indigenous territories we’ve certainly seen the turn towards monoculture, plantation economies, the deforestation, the privatization of water throughout the country. In the north, you get these uprisings, of course, and the protests by indigenous people in lithium mines, in the lithium plants. And, of course, lithium is what powers our cellphones and powers the Computer Age and the technology. And against Piñera, you’ve seen the ways in which a number of miners have also been at the center of this struggle.

And I’ve written a book also called The Extractive Zone, and I see Chile as an extractive zone in many ways, rich in minerals, rich in raw resources, like the majority of Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Global South. And so this extraction now has actually produced increased pressure with the neoliberal regimes that have not been able to adjust for wages, that squeeze and extract from the bodies of its own workers and from the majority of indigenous people, that this kind of racial and extractive capitalism that’s taking place in Chile is part of the neoliberalization process. We don’t talk about it in those terms, but that’s the longer arc of what’s going on.

And climate change activists need to consider these aspects, these deeper colonial histories, these modern ongoing continuities, and really connect to what’s happening on the ground to create these broader coalitions of struggle. Ecuador is a fine example. The YASunidos movement in Ecuador, as you might know, is part of the texture that created this new uprising in Ecuador.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain that.

MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: And the YASunidos was led by young people, as we’re seeing today in Chile. You know, it was young people. It was a transversal movement of ecofeminists, of indigenous peoples at the lead, supporting the work that was being done in Yasuní, a territory that’s one of the most biodiverse areas in eastern Ecuador, a territory that is a majority-indigenous territory and has been defended by land and water protectors. And so you saw a rich kind of movement, that was both urban and rural, that understood that the rural areas were powering the urban electricity of the urban — electrification in the urban areas.

And this kind of coalitional transversal movement, that’s anti-authoritarian at its core, is the kind of future, I think, of climate justice. It has all of these dimensions, just as the feminisms and the important feminisms and outspoken work that’s been taking place on the streets in Chile, that will be central to this movement, has learned from indigenous and black feminisms. And this is the promise, I think, that we have today.

But it is a dangerous moment. We’re at a dangerous crossroads. As you know, the human rights violations are twice, if not triple, more. The hospitals have been flooded with victims and survivors, etc. So, we need to figure out how to maintain what Paulo Freire called critical hope in these times, but also be very aware that we’re at a very dangerous crossroads in Chile and in the world on these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the United Nations sending a team to Chile to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses?

MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: Indeed. I mean, it’s no coincidence that Michelle Bachelet is at the head of that, former President Michelle Bachelet.

AMY GOODMAN: Who herself was imprisoned during the Pinochet regime, her father killed, her and her mother tortured.

MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: Indeed. So the continuities there are now at the center of the United Nations, you know, that has been seen by Trump and others as unnecessary — right? — in the right-wing kind of rhetoric of this, trying to dismantle the so many gains that have been had. So, that Michelle Bachelet is taking this commission now, today, and that Piñera has decided to suspend the curfew and allow for a kind of openness, supposedly, and the rhetoric against — you know, that the state of emergency is over — it’s precisely because the world is now watching, with Bachelet at the center to see what in fact is happening on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s end with you, Alondra. You’re in Santiago, Chile, Alondra Carrillo Vidal. The significance of the former Chilean president, the torture survivor under Pinochet, Michelle Bachelet, returning to Chile, coming to investigate the human rights abuses against protesters in the streets?

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes. Many people are gathering right now at the Palace of Justice to put forward reports of what’s been going on. It’s really contradictory that Michelle Bachelet is the one that is coming now, not because she was tortured and, of course, she was a victim of political violence, but because she was president of Chile, and as a president of Chile, she was part of the administration of these precarious life conditions. And it’s been — it’s one of the many presidents and political forces that are being held accountable of these conditions against which people are rebelling.

So, it’s important not to disassociate the repression that is being conducted by the military and the police from what’s the content of this mobilization. So, I believe, for me and for many of the people that are on the streets, it’s really — at the same time, it’s, of course, helpful to have this mission coming here and making visible what’s going on with people who are protesting and going to the streets, but it’s also really — it concerns us, what this can make in order to — I don’t know — hide these deep reasons why people are protesting now.

AMY GOODMAN: Alondra, as we wrap up, can you explain the green bandana that you’re wearing, its significance?

ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yeah, yes. This is a green bandana that we have created for the feminist movement. It says “Abortion now.” We have these — we have had a law that prohibited abortion. And in the last three years, we have a new law that permits abortion in three cases: the case of rape, of danger for the mother’s life and the case of the fetus cannot live after birth. So, we have created this bandana that says, “Three reasons are not enough. Free and legal and secure abortion for all.” It’s part of the feminist movement.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Alondra Carrillo Vidal, speaking to us from Santiago, Chile, spokesperson for Chile’s largest feminist advocacy group, Coordinadora Feminista 8M. That “Ocho M” for March 8th. The group organized the largest feminist mobilization since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship, on International Women’s Day, March 8th of this year. And Pratt Institute professor Macarena Gómez-Barris, founder and director of the Global South Center and chairperson of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt, author of several books, including Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile. Her mother worked in the Allende government. The family fled just after Pinochet rose to power September 11, 1973.

To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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