Chile: We will Live! We’ll be back! We will Win!

By Elizabeth Milos Rieloff
Photo by Javier Vergara (winning photo at the “Critics Choice Awards 2020”)

The Chilean people have been living very precariously in a relentless system for a long time: long work hours, minimum wage, job insecurity, crippling debt and poor health outcomes due to privatized education and healthcare, and retirement pensions that are one quarter the minimum wage. Neoliberalism transformed Chilean society into a consumerist, individualistic and “apolitical” world which many Chileans stubbornly endured but in October of 2019, Chile became very dangerous to the worldwide neoliberalist model.

Since the “transition to democracy” in 1990, the Mapuche continued fighting for their cultural, political and territorial rights against extractive industries which were sustained and defended by a succession of Chilean governments (both “socialist” and rightwing). The communities have continued to bear the brunt of state repression with incarceration, frame-ups, police killings, raids, military sieges, Pinochet-era Anti-Terrorism laws and mainstream media campaigns that depict the Mapuche as a “problem” group that doesn’t want “progress” for Chile. 

The other problematic sector for the successive post-dictatorship governments has been the student sector, especially the high school students, whom follow a long tradition of struggle against the privatization of education: in 2001 it was the “Mochilazo” (backpack protest), in 2005-06 it was the “Movimiento de los Pingüinos” (the movement of the Penguins, named after the appearance of their school uniforms) during which students carried out massive school occupations and started organizing political discussion assemblies regarding the educational situation in Chile. The university students joined in 2011 after which many of their main leaders became elected as the congressional representatives of this new generation. However, the judicial-legal state apparatus protected the privatized educational system and treated it as an “industry” instead of a right.

Then came October 18, 2019 and the rest of Chile woke up.

Initiated by high school students against a 30-peso metro rate hike, soon social media images of thousands jumping over turnstiles, getting arrested and beat up by police became viral. The cry was “It’s not 30 pesos, its 30 years!” Thirty years since “democracy” had come but also more than 30 years of an economic system that was wringing the life out of the population. More than 50% scrape by on minimum wage (US$426/month). Retirees from the privatized retirement plans (AFPs) only get US$125/month. The social upheaval became an immediate danger to the Pinera government because it was a self-organized revolt not led by any political party, which could’ve been brought into the political fold of quasi power. 

This self-organized movement had very notable characteristics: it was almost unanimously against any flags belonging to political parties and both Chilean and Mapuche flags were everywhere. It was a broad social movement, and the Mesa de Unidad Social (Social Unity roundtable, which did not claim to be speaking in the name of the entire movement) composed of leaders of unions, student, professional and feminist organizations came together to present a list of demands:  higher wages, job security, an end to the privatized retirement plans, and to privatized education and healthcare, a cancellation of all of the student debt, and of the transit toll debts (TAGS), an end to the privatization of water, and all of Chile’s natural resources, an end to the industrial sacrifice zones which leave people and the environment sick from dangerous pollution, and last but not least, to create a Constituent Assembly which would abolish Pinochet’s 1980 constitution, a major obstacle to meaningful change.

The social upheaval became like a giant tsunami and like the ocean, the waves of protests kept coming throughout the entire length of Chile. Pinera declared a State of Emergency calling the military to the streets, a new reality that up until now, only the Mapuche communities had suffered during these past 30 years. 

At the frontlines fighting the police and military were the “Primera Linea”, young men and women and even children, students, workers and youth from the poorest shantytowns, many of these brought up in the oppressive and sexually abusive Sename, Child Welfare Centers.  Medical students and nurses formed Medics Brigades to treat the injured. The millions that marched peacefully during Chile’s largest marches were protected by the Primera Linea, which literally blocked the police attacks by confronting the gigantic water cannons, armoured police vehicles with slingshots and rocks, neutralizing tear gas with traffic cones and water jugs. 

In November, Congress reached an agreement behind closed doors to hold a referendum on a new Constitution in April 2020. The referendum choice would be to either Approve or Reject a new constitution and if Approve, then two options would be available to draft this new constitution: A “mixed” convention composed of 50% members of Congress (from their respective political parties) and 50% independents or a Constitutional Convention (CC) composed of 100% independents. It was an agreement that didn’t include the Constituent Assembly option, which held more guarantees of true self determination.

Congress acted quickly to tie the hands of this future convention by passing a “reform” law that prohibited any decision regarding any other government entity (rendering the undemocratic Constitutional Tribunal untouchable) and keeping national assets like water (which is already privatized) and the Free Trade agreements (which also cover the privatized retirement system) beyond its scope. Youth under 21 couldn’t be elected as members to this convention, excluding the same high school age youth who had started Chile’s revolution. Negotiations continued regarding representation of Chile’s indigenous population and gender parity.

The government of Pinera quickly passed laws prohibiting wearing masks during protests, banned protests that blockaded streets or occupied schools imposing harsh 5-year sentences. It passed laws allowing the President to call the military to the streets to protect so-called “essential infrastructure” without having to declare a State of Emergency.

Each wave of protest was met with severe police repression costing dozens of lives and thousands of injured. The National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) kept an ongoing tally of cases denouncing torture and cruel treatment and sexual violence against men, women and children. The tally also started showing an alarming trend: police targeted protestors’ eyes with pellets and tear gas, literally blowing up people’s eyeballs. The Primera Linea, from behind their makeshift shields ingeniously used hundreds of laser pointers to try to prevent police from aiming their weapons against the protestors. 

Between October and March, more than 450 people had lost at least one eye and two people had lost both. It was the largest number of eye injuries during a social upheaval than in any other part of the world during the past 25 years combined. Though the number of people detained were estimated to be in the tens of thousands, the National Institute for Human Rights were able to visit at least 10,000 people in jails to verify the human rights violations. Between 2,500 and 5,000 are still awaiting trials in overcrowded, unsanitary Petri dish jails during a pandemic. Three international Human Rights organizations presented reports of systematic violations of human rights.

 March brought the half a million strong Women’s March and then news of the Corona virus began circulating. The government had been overplaying its preparedness level but as the number of infections and deaths increased worldwide, it took this opportunity to postpone the April referendum.

Throughout Chile, the same people and social organizations that had been protesting began making calls to stay inside and protect each other, even holding Cacerolazos (pots and pans protests) from home demanding a total quarantine.  Government response was abysmal, imposing only partial quarantines, a curfew creating more crowding for workers on public transportation, and also creating laws allowing corporations to lay off millions of workers, leaving them indigent in the middle of a pandemic. Meanwhile, hospital workers denounced lack of protective equipment and ventilators. Chile now has the highest new infection rate per 1 million inhabitants in the world. 

In May, Pinera finally ordered a shutdown of all of Santiago and other major cities, but this has caused a siege of hunger for the poorest sectors who can’t work from home and have no income. The neoliberal labor policies have unmasked the precarious situation of the workers under this system: no work contracts or permanent positions, just living day by day. 
Also, in May, Pinera began initiating legal mechanisms to release Pinochet ex-military/police prisoners, convicted of crimes against humanity, from their luxury jails using the pandemic excuse.

The latest dark chapter is the attempt to pass a new National Intelligence Law that places all other government functions under the Intelligence entities to monitor and punish political and social organizing.

The Mapuche in the south depend on selling their goods in vegetable markets to survive but police arrested Mapuche vegetable market sellers and destroyed their goods in Temuco. Hunger protests have erupted in districts like El Bosque, Villa Francia, La Legua, San Bernardo and Puente Alto.  Again, youth wearing masks and shields throw rocks at the newly purchased million-dollar police water cannons and armored police vehicles. Dozens of protesters have been arrested again.

Throughout Santiago, traditional soup kitchens have begun sprouting. It is the same soup kitchens that emerged in 1930 during the authoritarian regime of Coronel Carlos Ibanez del Campo (who organized the police force into Carabineros de Chile), and the same soup kitchens of the 1980s during the Pinochet dictatorship.

Pinera’s civilian dictatorship targets soup kitchens, raiding, arresting and destroying food. This hasn’t stopped the enormous solidarity among the most poor: the fishermen of Lebu donated 4 tons of fish to the poor neighbourhoods in La Pintana and El Bosque; the neighbours share what they have in their cupboards and in the territorial assemblies, those same ones that organized to discuss and create a new constitution from the bottom up have organized raffles and food pantries while the youth of the Primera Linea, covered in masks, gloves and protective clothing take food to the elderly and disabled.  In one social media video, a 15-year-old sharing food with neighbours explains that he works to support his little sister. The music in the background pleasantly surprises him and he begins to smile and chant to the song, “Con Todo Sino Pa’Que?” (“Give it your ALL, there’s nothing left to lose” which became the song of the Primera Linea since October 18th). Hashtags on social media and on the walls of Santiago promise, #ViveremosVolveremosVenceremos (We will Live, We’ll be back, We will Win).

(shorter version published in Taskforce on the Americas newsletter, May 2020)


Human Rights and a bit of political economy in times of pandemic

By Eugenio Bisama*
Photo by Carlos Candia Ayala

The two words in the concept of human rights never cease to attract my attention. Rights. Humans. The concept of rights is human: other than humans, no species, mountain, forest, or planet has developed a rights code. Rights belong to humans, no one else. Even those in the fifth generation.

At a time when a pandemic affects the planet, and we hear how for years scientists, and even politicians, have warned about how human presence “displace” other species and how, therefore, we could expect, for some time now “events” like this, rights continue to be human. We don’t even accept the possibility of “rights” of other species … or the planet.

How could we. For the dominant way of thinking, nature is a resource. We speak of “natural resources”. We speak of “development”, of “civilisation”, but in fact, we speak of human interests.

Those who govern in Brazil defend their right to burn forests to allow the development of agriculture. European citizens, who burned their own centuries ago,  speak of protecting them for the good of humanity. The native who lives in the forests migrates. Living beings of the forests die.
Not only in the forests, also in the sky and the sea.

More than a decade ago, the owners of capital found that they were paying workers in Europe and the U.S. too much and began moving their companies to Southeast Asia and, to a much lesser extent, to Latin America. The consequences were devastating for the workers of the North, their surroundings, and their families. To a lesser extent, the environmental movement managed to eradicate the most polluting industries from these countries… which likewise moved south. The generated waste was also exported to the south.

Logistics was developed. Displacement of goods and services grew exponentially. The price of the final product had and has, increasingly, lower production costs and more investment, distribution, and marketing costs. Maintaining growth requires, increasingly, more investment and more consumption. Those who lend money are those who earn the most. Things are made for one, two, or five years of shelf life. The debt remains. Those who lend money are those who earn the most.

Environmental studies indicate that CO2 began to increase exponentially after the industrial revolution. Subsequently, the horizontal and vertical displacements made it increase even more. The relocation of factories to the south (East Asia and Latin America) takes pollution to unprecedented levels, and traffic disrupts – increasingly -ecosystems which had not been affected.
The current pandemic has reduced this traffic to some extent, but still,
Those who lend money are those who earn the most.
Those who lend money are those who earn the most.
Those who lend money are those who earn the most.

* Eugenio Bisama is an academic at the Universidad Andrés Bello. Ph.D. in Economics and Business Management from the Universidad de Deusto (Spain), MBA from Tulane University (USA) and the Universidad de Chile, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.


Crimes against Human Rights and the Renegotiation of the Free Trade Agreement Chile-EU

We, the Plataforma Chile Mejor sin TLCs, call for the Board of Member States of the European Union (EU); its executive organ, the Commission, and the European Parliament that represents the citizens, to enforce the respect for human rights and immediately detain the negotiation of the modernization of the Association Agreement (AA) between the EU and Chile, in force since 2003. Chilean president Sebastián Piñera summoned ambassadors of the EU in Chile on the 4th  of March in the Governmental palace, La Moneda, to advance the process. The participants in this meeting purposefully ignored a thorough report documenting the government’s violations of the human rights of its people, elaborated by a delegation of the European members of parliament that visited Chile in October 2019 to gather information through meetings with representatives of social, political, and human rights organizations in Santiago and Valparaiso. The sixth meeting of the parties of the AA was held in November 2019, without regard for the deep social and political crisis in Chile. Likewise, by March, when the meeting was held, reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, OHCHR, and the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH, in Spanish), documenting the continued and extremely serious violations of human rights in Chile, had all been published. The attendees disregarded another pivotal fact: namely, that today the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are being broadly questioned by protesters in the popular revolts, given the lack of integral evaluation of their impacts and their crucial role in the neoliberal model, imposed by the military dictatorship through the constitution of 1980 still in force today. One example of this is the internet campaign “Chile. Water or Avocados?” regarding the socio-environmental costs of agribusiness. The campaign is a global petition that demands the abolition of the Chilean Water Code (1981), as well as restrictions on avocado cultivation and assuring access to potable and irrigation water for the communities of Petorca in Chile.

Systematic violations of Human Rights

By the end of January 2020, the public prosecutor’s office registered 31 deaths in the context of protests in Chile. In the past months, the number of killed has continued to increase. The official report published by the INDH regarding the period between October 18th, 2019, and February 18th, 2020, lists a total of 3.765 injured (including 439 women and 282 children and minors), and 411 eye injuries. Of the 2.122 bullet impacts, 500 were caused by bullets, 190 by pellets, 271 by tear gas cannons, 1.681 by rubber bullets, and 200 without an identified cause. The INDH has presented 1.312 legal actions with little advance, amongst them 5 regarding homicide perpetrated by state agents; 195 regarding sexual violence (including rape cases), and 951 concerning torture. The Coordinator for the Liberation of Political Prisoners of the Revolt 18.10 lists more than 2000 detainees, many of them being minors.

The process of renegotiations of the Agreement Chile-EU was initiated in November 2017, with the habitual lack of transparency. The negotiators of the EU cannot claim ignorance of the human rights crisis in Chile. After receiving the report elaborated by the delegation of the European Parliament that visited Chile in October during the state of emergency with the military still in the streets, 40 members of parliament wrote a letter to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini (whose position is today occupied by Joseph Borrell). In it, they called for, between other things, “in the frame of political dialogue, for EU to […] request an urgent meeting with the Embassy of Chile in EU […] and enforce the democracy clause of the Association Agreement upheld between the Union and Chile (Agreement of Economical Association, AEA), where the respect of fundamental human rights is established, as well as sustainable economic and social development, and commits the parties to the principles of good governance.” The MPs furthermore demand, if there were no change in the situation condemned by Human Rights organizations that the EU applies “the suspension clause of the agreement due to failure to comply with the democracy clause.” As is the case in all of the treaties, the parts that are not directly related to trading are non-binding, as the chapter on human rights is. In contrast, hereto, are the chapters on intellectual property and controversy resolution. However, the EU can act in consistency with its own principals and legislation on human rights.

On the 30th of October 2019, the Spokesperson for EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Maja Kocijancic declared, regarding the Chilean case, that: “We deplore the loss of lives and reject all forms of violence. All human rights violations must be properly investigated, as must they be respected under all circumstances.” On January 22nd, 2020 Claudio Nash, director of the Department of Human rights of the University of Chile, and Patricia Parga of the Human Rights Committee 18.10 of the network Chile Despertó Internacional, created by Chilean expands, presented before the Sub-Commission on Human Rights of the European Parliament on the situation in Chile. In his intervention, Nash held that “the violations describe paint a picture of serious, massive, and systematic violations of human rights […] Furthermore, the government has unleashed a legislative agenda that seeks to criminalize civil protest and the Chilean parliament has not been able to control and limit that criminalization.” Patricia Parga, on her part, reminded that Chile was the first Latin-American country to sign an FTA with the EU, and added: “what point does it have to include a clause on human rights, created precisely to be applied in contexts like the one we have described […], that does not oblige states to respect it?” She concluded by calling for European institutions to stop being silent accomplices and condemn the serious, massive, and systematic human rights violations committed by the Chilean state.

The Naked Model

The outbreak of social and political protest instigated the 18th of October revealed the enormous social inequality in the country, but it also exposed the neoliberal economic model, sustained by extractivism and the FTAs. In the heat of the uprising, both facts are recognized as crucial factors in the environmental deterioration and the systematic violations of basic rights to education, pension, health care, and so forth. As early as in 2018, we alerted that Chile cannot uphold this type of colonial relationship with the EU and we called attention to the negative impacts that we predicted would follow the continuity of the Association Agreement with the EU. The new text with an emphasis on energy and intellectual property exacerbates the role of Chile as a provider of raw materials such as copper, lithium (of which Chile is the primary provider for the European automobile industry), fruit, salmon, and seeds. The consequences will be a deepening of the plundering of common goods, the depredation of territories, and the dispossession of communities in mining areas. Regarding controversy resolution the risks are similar to those inherent to the TPP11, insofar that augmenting environmental standards, for instance, or introducing conditions to investment regarding technology sharing, can be considered trade barriers and unleash lawsuits against Chile in international panels that do not abide the common standards of due process.

Regarding gender relations, a non-binding theme in the new FTAs and the new EU-Chile agreement, an economy based in the exportation of agricultural and silvicultural (cellulose) monocultures, will have severe negative impacts on female seasonal workers, affected by cancer (because of the use of agro-toxics) and in their reproductive health (children with malformations). On the other hand, the multiplication of Hydroelectric Centrals and pisciculture will continue to leave entire rural and indigenous communities without access to water for women’s self-subsistence agriculture, including the provision of medical herbs. Highly dangerous pesticides, such as the Paraquat herbicide which is illegal in Europe, is already widely used in export cultures, in Chile. This includes the production of hazelnuts used in Nutella and consumed in Europe. These serious violations of the human right to integral health and the rights to alimentation potentially add to the violations occurring in the protest of the popular revolt.

A report from Subdirection of International Economic Relations of Chile from 2015 indicated that while exportations to the EU increased annually by 11%, the importations of machinery and industrial products did so by 13% annually. In 2015 the trade balance meant a deficit of 800 million dollars for Chile. These objections do not detain the Chilean government, which continues to be guided by a failed concept of development.

In numerous documents, including those under reference in the initiation of the renegotiation of the tree trade agreement with Chile, the EU presents a solid adherence to human rights before civil society. These principles, however, must be coherent with practice. As a people conscious of our rights, with the pain of our dead in the popular revolt, we demand that the executive organ of the EU, the European Commission, immediately cease the renegotiation of the Association Agreement between the EU and Chile, and enforce the EU’s human rights legislation, the European Declaration of Human Rights, and the Lisbon Treaty and to apply these standards to their commercial partners. The European Parliament must control that the European Commission does this. We call for the Chileans of the 18.10 Committee to support this demand to isolate the government of Sebastian Piñera, who have chosen the path of criminal repression of the Chilean people and aims to impose legislation and treaties without the democratic legitimacy.

Platform Chile is better off without Free Trade Agreements
March 11, 2020