Article by Nicolás Slachevsky Aguilera about the struggles in Chile
On Thursday, October 17, interviewed by the Financial Times, Sebastián Piñera arrogantly declared that, in the face of a turbulent and economically backward Latin America, Chile could be considered a true "oasis”. On Sunday the 20th, surrounded by soldiers, he stated to the press that the country had been plunged into war. Over the last three days, in fact, the horizon of meaning in Chile has shifted radically. If until Friday Piñera could still boast of the effectiveness of neoliberal governability (imposed by blood and fire by the civil-military dictatorship and dogmatically administered ever since the return to democracy), today it seems evident that something in Chile has come to an end. The massive uprising and insurrectionary climate that began in Santiago and that has already spread throughout the country seem to signify a point of no return for the economic and political model in Chile.
The events were precipitated when the government decreed an increase in the price of public transportation and have continued to escalate since the beginning of the week of October 14. The ticket fare reached that of European transport systems (€ 1.1), but in a country where almost one two-thirds of the population receives a salary of less than € 500. According to studies by the Fundación Sol, transportation is in fact the second largest expenditure of Chilean households, reaching a monthly average of €200 per household. This measure, aimed at maintaining the enormous rates of profit for the private companies with the public transportation concessions, was thus added to the neoliberal governance policies that have precaritized the existence of the population, forcing it to go into debt in order to access such basic services as education, health care, and housing.
The response was first articulated by high school students, one of the most combative sectors of the Chilean student movement, who have been in an intense conflict with the government since the beginning of the year. Faced with calls to massively evade payments of metro fares at the station entrances, the government responded by appealing to the repressive forces and, later, closing some of the main metro stations. By Friday, the students were joined by workers and large sectors of the civilian population who were prevented from returning to their homes. Thus, at dusk, confronted with the massive protests and riots that were already beginning to spread, the government decreed a State of Emergency. But the civil disobedience that had begun to forge itself in the underground of the subway had already gone out into the streets, turning into popular rebellion, and expanded as such throughout the rest of the country.
In recent days, scenes have been seen in Chile that had not been witnessed since the military dictatorship. Curfews, the military in the streets, opening fire against the civilian population. Although the government decided to cancel the increase in ticket fares on Saturday, along with a package of repressive measures aimed at restoring order, the horizon of possibilities that had been opened in the heart of the popular revolt had already surpassed any limited solutions. There is no doubt about what is in dispute in the streets today, it is the complete structure of the Chilean neoliberal system.
The speed with which the events have evolved, the extreme violence experienced in the streets and the information blockade that the press has tried to impose in complicity with the State make it difficult today to carry out an exhaustive analysis of the latest events. There is no doubt that the situation is complex. The military in the streets are not just a symbol, a painful reminder of the horrors of the dictatorship; they are the very evidence of the violence with which the Chilean capitalist class is prepared to defend its enormous privileges. Without precise official information about the number of dead and injured during the recent days of protests, there are several videos that circulate on social networks where you can see how police and military kill civilians in cold blood. What at first glance may appear to be the political ineptitude of the current government, the speed with which the social revolt has surpassed its capacity to provide a political response, could nevertheless be the effect of a calculated Shock strategy. The magnitude of the looting in popular neighborhoods against which the police have been allowed to act (if they have not provoked it themselves), the media montages and the informational terrorism of the media that have only referred to the revolt as the product of vandalizing hordes, could be an attempt to set a part of the population against the social movement, thus justifying the use of a more generalized and ruthless repression. The same president has spoken to the media saying that the country is immersed in “a war against a powerful, implacable enemy,” attributing the social movement to an "escalation that is undoubtedly organized.”
The revolt, however, has not stopped in the face of repression, protesting in each of the territories against the forces of order and the symbols of structural violence of the Chilean model. The population has not complied with the curfew, but bravely and rebelliously taken to the streets to demonstrate without backing down in the face of the police and military.
We said above that the events of the last few days have displaced the horizon of meaning, as well as the relation of forces in class struggle in Chile. The rebellion that has erupted spontaneously, without being directed by any leader or political party, has revealed the effects of the accumulation of grievances on the Chilean population, one of the most unequal countries in the world, where 1% of the population holds more than 25% of the wealth and where almost all social rights have been sequestered by private capital. This revolt has also made visible the political work of social and citizen organizations that, without compromising with the neoliberal establishment, have been working since the return to democracy for the reconquest of basic social rights: anti-extractivist movements, movements for the defense of water, movement against the private pension system, movement for education, etc...
In 2011, following the enormous social movement for public education, the seed of popular rebellion could be seen shining in intense days of protests that were ultimately restricted to the student sector and finally drowned out by the government. The magnitude of today's mobilizations, their transversality and violence appear in this moment as something unprecedented, only comparable in the country’s history (but remembering the extreme singularity of the events of the last few days) to the "battle of Santiago": a spontaneous popular movement that also arose after a rise in the price of transportation that, in 1957, opened the political horizon of the revolutionary left in Chile in a long-lasting way. The echo of the rebellions in Ecuador last month has also been decisive and inspiring.
Today, Monday, October 21, after a second night with a curfew in the country's main cities, the country's most important social, territorial and labor organizations have called for a general strike throughout Chile. While the state and ruling classes have once again shown their darkest and most repressive face, the Chilean people are again taking to the streets determined to examine the new horizon that has opened before their eyes. The call is to take care of themselves and to continue fighting.
We must be extremely attentive to what may happen in the next hours and days in Chile.
* Translation by Liz Mason-Deese.