Chile is fighting back and the people refuse to be silent any longer. Beginning October 18, a people’s movement has risen, started by high school students who made a call to protest against the increase of transportation fares. But no one predicted that this call to mobilize would spark an uprising of the Chilean people. What is behind the massive demonstrations nationwide is a profoundly unequal economic system, created by decades of neoliberal policies that have continuously increased the cost of living while wages have stayed stagnant.
It is not about transportation. It’s the pension system, education, healthcare, corruption, impunity of elites, precarious life, it is about years of injustices and humiliation. Chile is the only country in the world where water is privatized and the average monthly retirement income is about $200.
Massive numbers of Chileans have engaged in a wide range of activities. On October 21, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and shut down most of the economy in a general strike. People are putting up barricades and seizing control of their neighborhoods, engaging in civil disobedience by evading the unjust public transportation fares, and taking militant actions against symbols of capitalist injustice.
How is the government responding?
After spontaneous protests burgeoning in all cities and towns from north to south, the hated government of right-wing billionaire Sebastian Piñera declared a state of emergency. Piñera sent the military out to the streets to repress the legitimate right of people to protest and implemented a curfew in major cities from 10pm to 7am. The curfew was later tightened to 8:00 p.m. or even 6:00 p.m. in some cities.
This has not happened in the country since Augusto Pinochet’s U.S.-installed military dictatorship ended in 1989.
But people decided to bravely defy the curfew and continue the struggle. “Cacelorazos”, in which people protest with pots and wooden spoons to show solidarity and support of this people’s uprising, took place nationwide. Chants of “Piñera resign!” and “The people united will never be defeated!” could be heard in every corner of the country.
Who is protesting?
From the poorest to even some upper-class neighborhoods people went out in the streets, united in one voice to stand up for their rights. The younger generation and the older generation who grew up under Pinochet’s fascist regime are no longer scared. Whole families have joined these protests. It is an intergenerational movement of people — from the elderly to teenagers, children, students and workers. Everyone is out in the streets facing extreme repression from the police and armed forces that are out with machine guns to spread terror and discourage people from protesting.
Lower and working classes all over Chile are leading the country in a broad-based popular uprising unmatched in intensity by any movement that has emerged since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. High school and university students, workers, shantytown dwellers, Indigenous people, feminists and the LBGTQ movement, children, elderly, and other outraged citizens are all going to the streets to challenge the repressive response of the government and the general crisis of one of the most ruthlessly neoliberal economic systems in the world.
The superficial distinctions between right-wing and center-left parties are melting away because all are converging with the idea that the country cannot continue as it has been. And the politicians are not able to lead the transformations needed. Even people that were supportive of Piñera’s government are now turning against him.
The social discontent is beyond what the government has imagined. Even though soldiers are patrolling the streets, the people have not stopped going out to denounce the economic, political and social system that has the majority of Chileans in debt and struggling to make ends meet. The people are fighting for their right to live a dignified life.
How is the media responding? #FlashesFromPinochet
The Chilean and international corporate media is an ally of the right-wing government. They are only showing images of looting, chaos, terror, vandalism, and violence. But the people are organizing against their attempts to delegitimize the movement. Videos have been spreading across social media of police brutally injuring protestors, including the elderly and minors — arresting, beating and even shooting them.
Nonetheless, what the media is showing is images of looting and long lines to wait to buy food. The same strategy was used during the dictatorship to create a climate of fear.
The looting that has happened is an inevitable outcome of extreme poverty and inequality. But the people are rejecting the attempts of the media and the government to use this as a way to demonize the protests. For instance, videos are widely circulating showing some participants in ad-hoc security committees explain that they are preventing looting and arson not to protect the private property of the rich, but to avoid the menace of fire and chaos in their neighborhoods. They explicitly state they support the struggle.
In addition, Chilean military and police agent provocateurs have been found to be in many cases the ones who initiate looting and set fires in the first place in order to produce the necessary chaos for the government to respond with all the violence they can. Piñera notoriously declared “We are in a war against a powerful enemy…one that does not respect anything and is willing to use violence and delinquency without limits”. The police and the corporate media will go to any lengths to give him the narrative he wants.
In every corner of the country, Chileans have made it clear that they will continue to struggle with the conviction that fundamental change in society is needed right now. This historic October has taught us that Chileans are angry, tired, and will resist until they win.
This is a protracted conflict in which the struggles of today will define the possibilities of the future for building a socialist society — a project that was once underway before being smashed by the CIA and their fascist military puppets.
Workers all over the world should stand with the people of Chile who are defying military repression to courageously say: Evadir, no pagar otra forma de luchar! No son 30 pesos, son 30 años! Venceremos!