Over 200 people gathered in solidarity with the people of Chile in New York City’s Union Square on Oct. 26.
Just the day before, more than one million protesters took to the streets in Santiago, the capital of Chile, amounting to more than 5% of the Chilean population. What was started by high school students over fare hikes quickly exploded into nation-wide revolt denouncing austerity and neoliberal policies.
The Pinera administration’s immediate response was to declare a state of emergency and impose a mandatory curfew to deter the uprising of the Chilean people. He created an unofficial war zone reminiscent of Pinochet’s U.S.-backed regime, where Chilean demonstrators are being treated as the enemy. As of Oct. 28, some 20 protesters were killed by the regime, amid reports of government torture and sexual abuse of demonstrators.
In New York City, members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation spoke with people at the rally about why they were there and what is happening in Chile. Some cited neoliberal austerity measures that directly affect working class Chileans, including the disintegration of the pension system. One man recently arrived from Chile described the indiscriminate violence he witnessed against children, women and the elderly during demonstrations, where state police pointed guns directly at protesters. A young Chilean woman denounced the privatization of natural resources, mainly water, a resource all people need to survive.
Following the largest protests in Chile since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, President Piñera requested the resignation of all his ministers in a concession to the demands of protesters. As for the main demand that he resign immediately, he has remained completely silent.
The struggle against neo-liberalism and austerity measures go beyond Piñera. Chile is one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries, but has the worst income inequality of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Signs in NYC and Chile read “It’s not about 30 pesos, it’s about 30 years,” referring to the 30 years that Chile has moved beyond Pinochet’s explicit right-wing repression and violence to more subtle and sinister measures that export natural resources, complying with austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund, and leave the poor to pay with rising costs of living, lower wages and no benefits.
During the New York City demonstration, a band played songs by the revolutionary Chilean musician Victor Jara, a communist political activist who was murdered in 1973 by Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship. The crowd sang “El derecho de vivir en paz,” a famous Victor Jara song that translates to “the right to live in peace.” This points to the future Chileans are fighting for, a future free from the shackles of imperialist policies that favor a tiny elite and leave poor and working people to pay the price.