Archive for category: Chile
Can you recognize this country?
In a momentous election, a narcissistic president—who has never won the popular vote—unleashes the full force of his executive powers in order to avoid defeat. At frenzied rallies, he accuses his democratic opponents of being puppets of dark foreign interests, captives of radical revolutionaries bent on spreading chaos and violence, a threat to Christian and Western civilization. He warns his turbulent partisans that if he does not carry the day, hordes of poor people will invade their neighborhoods and their women will not be safe. He derides those who protest against him and does nothing to stop well-equipped right-wing thugs from attacking them. He signals that if the vote goes against him, he will refuse to concede, that he will invoke his awesome authority as commander in chief to continue in office.
I am not describing the current U.S. election, but a plebiscite in Chile 32 years ago, which would determine whether General Augusto Pinochet, the country’s dictator since the coup of September 1973, would remain in power for another eight years. A “no” vote against Pinochet and his junta would initiate a transition to democratic elections. This was a chance to end the brutal repression and draconian censorship of his regime, which had closed both houses of Congress, executed thousands of opponents, and opened concentration camps across the land.
Pinochet’s attempts to triumph in that 1988 referendum, which he saw as a way to legitimize his rule, eerily presaged Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric and measures as he confronts the likelihood, if the polls are right, of losing to Joe Biden in November. That distant referendum in Chile offers the U.S. an example of how ordinary people can, through peaceful mobilization and decisive action, save their republic from an authoritarian figure.
Pinochet’s dictatorship had forced me into exile, but I watched from afar as a movement of trade unions, shantytown dwellers, and feminist collectives, as well as civic, student, and professional organizations, let go of their differences and came together against Pinochet. The men and women of Chile knew that the vote was their best opportunity to stop the country from continuing its long night of darkness. They accelerated and enhanced what had already been a large mobilization effort, and I and others helped gather outside recognition and celebrity support. The victory had to be unequivocal, of such magnitude that Pinochet and his allies could not dispute the results.
Many had predicted, at the time, that such an exploit was impossible, given the fanaticism of his followers, who believed that Pinochet had ushered in a strong economy; the fear the dictator’s regime had instilled in his subjects; and the real danger people faced for voting against him. But I was among those who believed that a day of reckoning awaited him. Whenever anyone asked me how Chile could achieve such a seemingly fantastical feat, my jocular answer was that the rabbits would do it. I was referring to La Rebelión de los Conejos Mágicos, a children’s story I had written while in exile, in which a megalomaniac wolf king is dethroned by a peaceful army of nibbling rabbits, the very creatures His Wolfiness had contended did not exist. I was convinced that the Chilean people, like the mischievous protagonists of my fable, would emerge from the shadows and humiliate the autocrat who believed himself invincible.
My wife and I returned to Chile and on October 5, 1988, joined an astonishing 90 percent of the electorate to cast a ballot in the plebiscite. The results were clear—56 percent of Chileans voted to oust Pinochet. Though the tyrant, cowering in the presidential palace, wanted to declare martial law and disregard the final tally, he found himself isolated when the air force, the national police, and prominent conservatives recognized the opposition’s obvious success.
The Chilean plebiscite was a formidable example of why voting matters: Just one tiny mark on a ballot, and then one more, and then yet another can forge a better, luminous collective future. If we had thought that one vote was inconsequential, or that showing up wasn’t worthwhile, because Pinochet would ignore his defeat, the outcome would have been very different.
Trump is a less fearsome figure than Pinochet and therefore should be easier to vanquish. No matter how much the current American president admires strongmen and totalitarians abroad, he has been constrained from imitating their worst tactics, unable to jail and torture dissidents, disappear and exile opponents, or silence the media, as the Chilean dictator did.
Yet Trump has still done great harm to the country and the Constitution. Despite his criminal and arrogant mishandling of COVID-19—a disease he now has—despite his vandalization of the environment, his war against science and decency, and his divisive white-supremacist jargon, he enjoys a degree of popularity similar to the 44 percent that Pinochet received in the referendum. That support might be enough to tempt Trump, if the results on Election Night are tardy or muddled, to declare a national emergency, invoke the Insurrection Act, and call on his well-armed followers to impose “law and order.”
To avoid such a terrifying scenario, Americans who believe in democracy must recognize, as so many of us did in Chile, that the election must be decided in an irrefutable landslide, an immediate and conclusive display of the popular will reflected in the vote margins and the Electoral College. Millions of voters should be ready to defend the verdict, with their bodies in the streets, if the election is in danger of being stolen.
Even though some may accuse me of excessive optimism, I am confident of the future. Witnessing the deployment of so many inspired Americans in favor of environmental advocacy, racial justice, and women’s and immigrants’ rights over the past several years, I believe that, like the rabbits battling the despot who denied their existence, like the fearless men and women of Chile who more than three decades ago confronted a dictator, a significant majority of the citizens of the United States will show the world that the most powerful man on earth must bow to the more powerful voice of a peaceful and mobilized people.
This essay first appeared in The Atlantic.
Activists release manifesto, calling on civilians to set the institutions of the state on fire – ‘in a figurative sense’
Governments around the world are using the coronavirus as an excuse to step up repression and push back civil liberties, warns a new song by Pussy Riot, released alongside a new manifesto written with the Chilean feminist collective Lastesis.
It has been one month since the rebellion in Chile began, and one week since the coup in Bolivia. On Saturday, thousands of Trotskyists filled an indoor soccer stadium in Buenos Aires for a massive internationalist rally. The Ferro stadium, which has a capacity of 4,500 people, was packed. As rebellions continue to spread throughout Latin America—in Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Chile, and now Bolivia—the most class conscious workers in Argentina expressed their support. The event was organized by the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS), the largest organization within the Workers Left Front (FIT).
Thousands of workers and youth came to hear speakers from Chile. These speakers included Beatriz Bravo, a young postal worker from Santiago; Lyam Riveros, a student from the University of Valparaiso; and Nicolás Bustamente, a worker from Antofagasta. All three are members of the Revolutionary Workers Party (PTR), which is the Chilean sister organization of the PTS.
Postal Worker From Santiago de Chile Beatriz Bravo. [PHOTO: LID]
Bravo called out: “We want Chile to be the tomb of neoliberalism. We want this force to inspire the youth and the peoples of Latin America, to put an end to this shit system.” The stadium responded to her speech with a chant: “The working class is one and has no borders!”
Lyam Riveros, student from the University of Valparaiso. [PHOTO:LID]
Lyam spoke as a representative of the “youth without fear” who have taken to the streets in Chile to topple the regime that was inherited from the dictatorship. It wasn’t just the hike in subway fares that provoked the rebellion—it was hatred of a system in which education and healthcare are totally privatized. Lyam also criticized the reformist leaders who are “calling for a dialogue with the government that is murdering and repressing us.” He explained that “we are trying to build up a revolutionary youth that unites with the workers’ movement.” And he called on the youth in Argentina to take an example from Chile and get organized.
Worker From Antofagasta Nicolás Bustamente
The last speaker from Chile, Nicolás Bustamente from Antofagasta, spoke about the Emergency and Protection Committee that workers and young people had established in that northern city in order to unify their struggles. “We have the power to get rid of the government and the entire Pinochet regime”, he declared. “We need to multiply the number of coordinating committees in schools, universities, and workplaces.”
Homage to Eduardo Molina, a Trotskyist leader of many decades who passed away a few months ago.
The event also included a commemoration of Eduardo Molina, a Trotskyist leader of many decades who passed away a few months ago. Eduardo was not only one of the great Marxist intellectuals in Latin America, but also an organizer of revolutionary workers in Bolivia.
The struggle of Bolivian workers and indigenous people against the coup d’état was also present.
Bolivian immigrants in Argentina then came onto the stage with their national and indigenous wiphala flags to denounce the coup. Yuri Fernández, a Bolivian immigrant and worker in the occupied textile factory Brukman as well as a member of the PTS, invited everyone to a big demonstration against the coup that will take place on Monday.
The rally then got a message from Julia Alandia from La Paz. She is a leader of the Revolutionary Workers League—Fourth International (LOR-CI), another sister organization of the PTS. She spoke about the mobilizations against the coup. “Given the strengthening of racist and fascist groups, the response of the workers and the people was not long in coming, with indigenous women on the front lines” she said. But at the same time, Evo Morales’ party, the MAS, “is attempting to negotiate with the coup leaders behind the backs of the people.”
The event was closed by Myriam Bregman and Nicolás del Caño, the most prominent representatives of the PTS.
Bregman recalled the bloody legacy of U.S. imperialism in the region, including the “Plan Condor” in the 1970s, which was “a true international of terror” that kidnapped, disappeared, and assassinated thousands of activists. The recent coup in Bolivia shows that this policy has not changed at all. She called for the expulsion of imperialism—including the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—from the region.
Del Caño was the presidential candidate of the FIT in the recent elections. The whole campaign was focused on solidarity with the rebellions in Ecuador and Chile—the campaign’s closing rally was a protest at the Chilean embassy in Buenos Aires. After the election, PTS leaders—including Del Caño, the sanitation worker Alejandro Vilca, and Raúl Godoy, a worker from the occupied ceramics factory Zanon, all visited Chile to support the rebellion. Del Caño spoke about the perspectives for revolution:
By itself, the enormous energy of the masses on the streets of our continent is not enough. With their humble forces, our comrades of the PTR are giving a small example of what it means to have a revolutionary party that can lead this enormous workers’ and people’s power to victory. Imagine what would happen if there were a large revolutionary party in Chile to develop coordinating committees, prepare the general strike, throw out Piñera, and impose a free and sovereign constituent assembly!
The PTS and the FIT got modest results in the election: just shy of 800,000 votes, or 3%. But revolutionary socialists were nonetheless on the national stage, including the presidential debates. Millions of workers heard their ideas. When a similar rebellion breaks out in Argentina, this preparatory work will pay off.
The internationalist rally was a call to construct a working-class and socialist alternative, so that the rebellions in Latin America can triumph, forcing the capitalists pay for the crisis. This is the exact opposite of the reformist and “progressive” forces in the region, which are holding back the mass movement. While right-wing governments and the armed forces are murdering protestors on the streets, reformist leaders propose a “dialogue” with the murderers of the people.
The rally expressed solidarity with the rebellions in Chile and Bolivia. But implicitly, it also had a message for workers and youth in the United States. We need to unite with revolutionary socialists on the other end of this double continent to fight against imperialism and capitalism. We also need to draw strength from the struggles of our siblings who are fighting against the same capitalists and politicians that we are. The PTS rally, following the gigantic FIT rally in October, shows that there is much we can learn from the Trotskyists in Argentina.
Based on an article in La Izquierda Diario
In the center of Santiago, Chile, Plaza Italia has become a landmark of resistance. The few blocks of space where the plaza sits have become both a festival of resistance and a battleground against the hated “pacos”—the police. Protesters fight the tear gas with water and baking soda, and if you don’t have your own, hundreds of people are there to help. The hundreds of thousands who fill the plaza are only a percentage of the millions who have taken over the streets of Chile nationwide.
The uprising in Chile has been going on for over 20 days now. Triggered by a hike in subway fares, the uprising has turned into an all-out uprising challenging the president, the constitution and the police. Although the president has made concession after concession, people remain on the streets. Most recently, President Sebastián Piñera said that he would rewrite the Chilean constitution. In the United States, many people lauded this as a victory. But in Chile, people know that any constitution that involves Piñera will attack working-class people and that it’s a maneuver to stop the momentum of the protests. On Tuesday, only a few days after the concession of the new constitution, there was a massive general strike and protest.
During Tuesday’s general strike, workers from the cities of Antofagasta, Valparaiso, Santiago, Concepción and Temuco, among others, completely paralyzed the Chilean economy in one of the most important strikes that the country has seen since the fall of the dictatorship. Port workers, miners, health workers and service workers took to the streets to confront the police, clearly state their unwillingness to accept the mild reforms Piñera has proposed, and cry out their most felt demand: Out with the killer Piñera!
The anger at the massive repression is palpable. The images of thousands of youth losing an eye or even both because of the bullets from pellet guns shot by the pacos quickly turned public opinion, even more, against the repression. People who a few weeks ago would have never been outspoken about social injustices are now leading chants in their neighborhood protests, joining the barricades, “cacerolazos,” etc. Everyone seems to have been or knows someone who has been affected by the repressive forces. On the outskirts of the city, home to the most working-class neighborhoods, the confrontations are not as publicized as the ones in Plaza Italia, but are very intense. On an Uber trip to this area, the driver shared with me the loss of a family member who died while protesting; he was run over in a roadblock. Dozens of youth have been disappeared, many feared dead. The streets have drawn a line, and the blood on the hands of Piñera’s government will not be forgotten.
The feeling of solidarity is overwhelming. The most dedicated youth fighting the pacos have all kinds of support, from the impromptu nurses who tend to the wounds to the people who gather rocks and other objects to supply the barricades with ammunition against the cops. the most passive protesters watching from the distance chant against the police repression. The plaza is acting as one, everyone helps in their own way, but everyone knows their objective: Out with Piñera and Pinochet’s constitution!
As night falls, the plaza still vibrates with the sounds of police gas bombs, protesters’ firecrackers and chants against Piñera and the pacos. “Whoever doesn’t jump is a paco” is a popular chant that quickly sets everyone jumping up and down. Crowds celebrated when hundreds of lasers brought down a police drone; the protesters held it up as a trophy of war while everyone cheered in delight. The fires light the faces of tired youth who now feel empowered as the owners of their destiny.
Thursday is yet another date with a combative history: It is the one-year anniversary of the death of Camilo Marcelo Catrillanca Marín, a Mapuche worker and student leader shot in the back by the Chilean police. On that day, the masses are again expected to turn out in large numbers. The rebellion in Chile is just beginning, the workers and youth know they have nothing to lose but their chains and a world to win.
Photos by Leo Zino.