We present to you an analysis on the uprising that has been underway in Chile produced jointly by Black Rose/Rosa Negra (US), Solidaridad (Chile), and Acción Socialista Libertaria – ASL (Argentina).
Originally published by Black Rose Anarchist Federation.
A Preface to October 18th
On October 18th, a popular rebellion broke out in Santiago, Chile that quickly spread throughout the country. The demonstrations that began in response to a spike in the public transportation fare quickly transformed, in a matter of days, into a social upheaval rooted in mass discontent over 30 years of privatization and precarious economic policies. As the phrase circulating through street graffiti and social media states, “It’s not about 30 pesos, it’s about 30 years.”
The cost of living in Chile rose substantially in 2018-2019. As an example, on April 2018, the government announced a 30% increase in personal taxes applicable over the next three years. In January 2019, state officials announced a 6.4% increase in TAG (toll roads in the Santiago region). In May, electricity bills increased 10.5%. In September, the ISAPRES (private health insurance) rose 50% on average for GES premiums (associated with illnesses that the state is required to cover) while FONASA (state insurer) rose its premiums 3%. At the beginning of October, electricity rose once again 9.2%. All of this has occurred in a context in which 50% of all employees receive an income less than $400,000 Chilean Pesos ($496 USD) per month, while the cheapest rents in Santiago can run between $200,000 and $285,000 ChileanPesos ($250-350 USD). Unsurprisingly, the household debt has reached a record high of 73.3% in relationship to disposable income during 2018. The $30 peso subway increase announced in October was the spark that ignited the flame. These previously mentioned economic policies have made life precarious for the working class and was complemented by a series of state repression strategies to violently contain the growing discontent.
In Chile, the Year of Political and Social Discontent began on March 8th
2019 has been a year of milestones; the first being the March 8th Feminist Strike—a historic moment in Chile—marking feminism’s entry into the political field of social movements. Their front and center slogan, “Against the Precariousness of Life,” has proven to be a central slogan used in the mobilizations that broke out since October 18th. Although feminism was invisibilized during the first weeks of the protests, in the days since feminists organized a presence at the marches, raising concrete demands. The feminist movement – of which the March 8th Feminist Coordinator has been a fundamental proponent – has developed a transversal struggle against the patriarchy, capitalism, and racism, highlighting the necessity for feminists to be present in all neighborhood assemblies, cabildos (neighborhood councils), and community onces (teatime). It has been feminists who denounced before anyone else the disappearences and the use of sexual violence as a torture mechanism against women during the demonstrations, replicating methods employed by the genocidal military dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.
“We see this current moment [in Chile] both as a popular reaction against neoliberal policies and an incipient regional anger and disillusionment with the left governments that formed the so-called “Pink Tide”, which came to power with popular support and hope, inspiring various sectors of the international left, but created more continuity than change.“
High school students – one of the most active groups in the demonstrations since the 2006 militant student mobilizations known as the Penguin Revolution – have suffered a year of extreme repression. There were widespread media images this year of the riot police attacking students at the National Institute (a prestigious all-male public school) in an attempt to implement policies of state control and repression inside the schools. The “Safe Classrooms” Law is an attempt to break the legacy of the student movement. The National Institute students, who have played an emblematic role in directing the student movement, were subjected to police violence, such as the expulsion of student leaders, and were criminalized by media outlets.
These same students organized the mass subway fare evasions on October 11th, jumping or breaking subway turnstiles to protest the 30 peso fare increase. Within days, their call to join the evasion movement grew in popular support. On Friday, October 18th, Piñera’s government responded with even more repression, transforming the peaceful act of evasion into a battle against the riot police. When city and government officials closed the entire Santiago subway system, forcing thousands of workers to pack crowded buses or walk home, the citizen response was not of frustration toward the students but solidarity. The people as a whole rose up to evade, fight against the police, and attack and loot in mass the businesses that created precarious conditions in Chile: Isapres (health insurers), AFP (pension funds administrators), ENEL (electricity distributor), large supermarkets and retail stores.
Given this scenario, the government strategy has been to increase their repressive strategies against protesters. On Friday, October 18th, President Sebastian Piñera declared a state of emergency that enabled the government to place military forces in the streets, and establish a military curfew for the Santiago area. The people, far from being intimidated, stood firm in the streets and defied the military curfew, by banging pots and kitchen utensils (“caseroleos”), building barricades, and attacking the military and the police with rocks or other things.
The widespread discontent reflects anger over years of neoliberal policies and state repression that the people have endured. There are 24 reported deaths, over 200 people have lost sight in an eye due to rubber bullets and pellets, and there are at least 52 complaints of sexual violence by the hands of the police or military since the protests began on October 18. The social movement slogans “No more AFP” and “End the Commodification of Education, Health, Housing, Transportation, and Natural Resources,” as well as the call to replace the 1980 Constitution drafted during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), resonate at protests across the country. The governments’ 30-year indifference to popular demands underscore that the only way to end the neoliberal experiment is through a grassroots movement to transform society. Unfortunately, there is no peaceful way out. There is no solution to the conflict while the military is in the streets and a government deal is unacceptable while human rights abuses continue against working people.
Chile in Global Context
The oppressive situation imposed by the political and economic system in Chile, institutionalized by military dictatorship and continued by the Concertación (center-left) governments, is not an isolated case in either the region or the world. In Ecuador, Haiti, Lebanon, Catalonia, Hong Kong, and various other places, people are tired of abuses by the capitalist ruling class. Global protests call to stand up against the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the states and rulers who execute their policies.
We must understand the popular uprising in Chile in that light. We see this current moment both as a popular reaction against neoliberal policies and an incipient regional anger and disillusionment with the left governments that formed the so-called “Pink Tide” (Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua), which came to power with popular support and hope, inspiring various sectors of the international left, but created more continuity than change–particularly after the 2008 economic crisis and the fall in commodity prices. Meanwhile, as authoritarianism and the right make advances in the region, we observe with remorse the recent coup d’etat in Bolivia and the brutal racist and class-based oppression against native and peasant communities. Finally, we must highlight the coup d’etat in Honduras in 2009, backed by the United States and driven by the Honduran oligarchy and army. Ten years of neoliberal policies has left Honduras in a major political crisis, leading the population to protest against repression, corruption and privatization in recent months.
In other parts of the world—with US and European complicity—a genocidal military campaign by the Turkish state is underway in Syria. Turkish military encroachment aims to reverse the liberated cantons’ community life and the socialist project led by the YPG, YPJ, and Kurdish people’s militias. In Catalonia, some weeks ago, masses took to the streets in support for self-determination, independence, and in repudiation of the judicial ruling that imprisons those who fight. We have also seen Ecuadorian indigenous people and workers organize a revolt that halted a state package of adjustments (Decree 883). In Haiti, the months-long protests led to the resignation of the president, something also achieved by Lebanese protesters in opposition to state corruption and government policies that seek to impose an economic burden on the shoulders of working people. In Hong Kong, protesters have been fighting for more than six months to prevent the passing of a Chinese extradition law. In New York, on November 2, a day of protests and subway fare evasions was organized in response to the high costs of living and racist police violence. NYC protesters used Negro Matapacos (cop killer black dog), a street dog who participated in student protests and a symbol of the struggles in Chile. As demonstrated, Chile is part of a worldwide network of struggles that are emerging against an unlivable system.
Class Struggle, Direct Action, and Attempts at New Forms of Organization
We are able to stand up against those who oppress us with mass support and through direct action. On Friday, October 25th, more than 2 million people marched throughout Chile and Wallmapu  calling on President Piñera to resign and in favor of a Popular Constituent Assembly. The Chilean people demonstrated that there is no need for a plebiscite because they already voted with their feet, bodies, and determination. The reaction by the right-wing government has been more repression and persecution and on November 7 a Public Order Plan was announced that intends to criminalize all forms of protests, which we reject.
But beyond the barricades and mass direct action there is another story. Through the destruction of hundreds of symbols of colonization in squares and towns something new is being woven. Throughout Chile, slowly but surely, hundreds of territorial assemblies, cabildos [local councils], and community onces [literally “teas,” small gathering like a coffee meet up] consolidating a new form of popular power. Historical forms of organization by the working class are being reinvigorated— once encased in our collective memory. We are building the foundations of a new movement engendered from rage and protest that is both constructive and widespread. To coordinate and plan successfully, we need to develop popular unity from below, which is our primary task at the moment.
An Urgent Task: Solidarity with the Chilean People’s Struggle
The Chilean working class is carving out a path of struggle against the ravages caused by the neoliberal project. The state has no solution and we cannot trust the regime’s political parties who make agreements among themselves and behind closed doors, and who are trying to promote a “Peace Agreement” and water down the potential of a popular constituent assembly. The agreement, which lacks broad representation, intends to buy Piñera time while refusing to address the immediate popular demands. The agreement does not include the demand for justice for human rights violations and state murders, and offers only superficial changes designed to distract and demobilize.
The current tasks, agenda, and emancipatory perspective must be those visions and demands put forward by working people in the streets, workplaces, schools and universities. Organizing and supporting the growth of popular neighborhood assemblies independent from political parties allows the grassroots blossoming of debates to initiate and build a program of demands in the short, medium, and long-term.
We call on comrades abroad to support the struggles of the Chilean working people by participating in local protests and assemblies or cabildos and promoting events or talks about the political situation in Chile, Latin America, and the world. The Chilean struggle against neoliberalism is a struggle that resonates throughout the globe. If the Chilean people achieve their demands, it will be an example for social movements internationally. As the Santiago street graffiti exclaims: Neoliberalism was born and will die in Chile!
SOLIDARITY WITH THE CHILEAN PEOPLE RISING AND FIGHTING!
FOR THE CONSTRUCTION AND COORDINATION OF TERRITORIAL ASSEMBLIES THAT DEBATE FOR THE CREATION OF A TRUE PLURINATIONAL AND FEMINIST POPULAR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY!
FOR SOCIALISM AND FREEDOM!
¡ARRIBA LXS QUE LUCHAN!
Acción Socialista Libertaria – ASL (Argentina)
Black Rose / Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation – BRRN (United States)
1. Wallmapu is the name for the ancestral territory of the Mapuche people and nation, located in southern Chile and Argentina.
If you enjoyed this piece and are interested in learning more about Latin American anarchism we recommend our three-part series in English and Spanish “Libertarian Socialism in Latin America”: Parte I – Chile, Part II – Argentina, Part III – Brazil.
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