“The people, united, will never be defeated!”
This chant echoed all across the Chilean capitol of Santiago, from dawn to well past dusk on Friday Oct. 25. Over one million Chileans marched in peaceful protest in Santiago against the rampant inequality in Latin America’s wealthiest country, with many more marching in solidarity in every major city across the country. Chile’s working class has demanded that the suffering caused by over 30 years of privatization of the entirety of the county’s social services come to an abrupt end. These protests are the largest seen in the country since the fall of Augusto Pinochet’s fascist dictatorship in 1990.
The inequality in Chile stems from the neoliberal policies of the Pinochet regime, which left the country’s working class with “low retirement benefits, high levels of debt, really expensive education, and a really expensive, inefficient healthcare system,” according to human rights observer Veronica Brito. Chilean workers have been suffering the effects of neoliberalism ever since the 1973 US-backed coup d’état that overthrew the popularly elected socialist president Salvador Allende and installed the fascist Pinochet. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean states that the top 1 percent of the population in Chile controls 26.5 percent of the country’s wealth, while half of low-income households access a fraction of Chile’s capital – only a mere 2.1 percent. Through mass protest, Chile’s workers have made it clear to their government that enough is enough.
However, the Chilean government’s response to protestor’s demands has been cruel and repressive. On Oct. 20, President Sebastian Piñera declared a state of emergency in several regions of Chile and deployed the Chilean Army to quell anti-capitalist frustration through brutal force. Protestors, peaceful or not, are met with tear gas, live rounds, and vehicular homicide. According to Richard Curinao Pallaleo of Werken Noticas, “There are people who have been taken from their homes, tortured, brutalized, and there are some who have simply disappeared.” Numerous human rights observer groups working in Chile have similar reports and have even reported that military and police have been raping women they detain at protest rallies.
As of Oct. 26, Chilean government officials report that 19 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested. Chilean protest groups, trade unions, student unions, and human rights observers all contest these claims, stating that the government overlooks many injustices carried out by Chilean law enforcement.
In typical neoliberal fashion, Piñera declared that the chaos in the country is a plot by communists to destabilize the government. Instead of addressing the problems inherent in the neoliberal government, Piñera states that Cuban and Venezuelan agents are the ones creating the civil unrest. This could not be further from the truth.
The truth is that Chile is experiencing a popular uprising. Chileans are sick and tired of a government that ignores them to service profits for the rich. Chileans are sick and tired of their fascistic constitution, which has remained unchanged since the end of the Pinochet regime. Chileans are sick and tired of privatization of every public service, even down to water, leaving many in poverty. Chileans are sick and tired of being beaten, raped, and disappeared by their far-right government. Chileans are sick and tired of neoliberalism. Chileans are sick and tired of capitalism.
On the streets of the disparaged country today, the last words of Salvador Allende are echoed by protestors: “The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.”