“30 Years of a Social Crisis”


Source: Democraccy Now!

In Chile, a new set of mass protests took place Monday as President Sebastián Piñera fulfilled the promise to appoint new members to his cabinet. As Piñera addressed the nation Monday, hundreds of protesters had already gathered outside the presidential palace in Santiago, waving flags, honking horns and demanding for Piñera’s resignation. The reshuffling of his cabinet came after more than a million people flooded the streets last Friday in massive peaceful demonstrations over inequality, high cost of living and privatization. The protest drew more than 5% of Chile’s population and followed days of widespread civil unrest and a violent police and military crackdown across Chile. At least 18 people have died, with more than 1,000 more protesters shot and wounded since the mobilizations erupted Oct. 19. We speak with Pablo Abufom, a member of the Solidarity Movement, an anti-capitalist and feminist organization in Chile. His recent article published in Jacobin magazine is titled “It’s Not About 30 Pesos. It’s About 30 Years.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show in Chile, where President Sebastian Piñera faced a new set of mass demonstrations Monday as he fulfilled the promise he made to appoint new members to his cabinet. As Piñera addressed the nation Monday, hundreds of protesters had already gathered outside the presidential palace in Santiago, waving flags, honking horns and demanding his resignation. They were quickly dispersed by security forces with tear gas. Later in the day, hundreds of people once again rallied at one of the city’s central squares.

The reshuffling of Piñera’s cabinet came after more than a million people flooded the streets last Friday in massive peaceful demonstrations over inequality, the high cost of living and privatization. The protest drew more than 5% of Chile’s population and followed days of widespread civil unrest and a violent police and military crackdown across the nation.

A three-member team from the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission was previously scheduled to arrive in Chile Monday night to begin investigating allegations of human rights violations by police and military forces, but the Chilean media report that the team doesn’t yet have an exact date of arrival. At least 18 people have died with more than 1,000 shot and wounded since the mobilizations erupted October 19th.

AMY GOODMAN: The protests in Chile began in response to a subway fare hike, but at the root of the mass mobilizations are demands to dismantle the country’s neoliberal policies, including the privatization of healthcare, utilities, natural resources and Chile’s Pinochet-era pension system, which is currently controlled by private corporations.

For more, we go to Santiago where we’re joined by Pablo Abufom, member of the Solidarity Movement, an anti-capitalist and feminist organization in Chile, also an activist with No Más AFP—No More AFP—an organization seeking to dismantle the Pinochet-era privatized pension system in Chile. He recently published an article in Jacobin which is headlined It’s Not About 30 Pesos, It’s About 30 Years. Pablo, explain what’s going on not only in Santiago, but all over Chile right now.

PABLO ABUFOM: Hi, Amy. Thank you for having me on the show. First of all, because of the extent of the human rights violations during the state of emergency, we need this international attention in Chile. What we’re seeing right now is a massive civil and social unrest due to 30 years and more than 30 years of a social crisis.

As you said, after high school students organized massive evasion of the subway fare and jumping the turnstiles, millions joined that movement to protest not just the cost of living, but also the conditions of life in Chile under a highly privatized system. So since last Friday, after hundreds of thousands of people went out to protest the repression against the high school students, only after five hours of civil unrest, we saw the president declaring a state of emergency and taking the military out to the streets to try to quell this social unrest.

And after that, after so many years of trying to recover from a long dictatorship of almost 20 years, you have an open wound in the Chilean society when you have the military on the street. And that’s another thing that we have to take into account when understanding this crisis, is that that trauma of Chilean society of having the military on the street is open again with this repression and human rights violation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pablo, I wanted to ask you, Piñera is in office now. He had previously been in office. But in between, there were two terms of Michelle Bachelet who was considered part of the Pink Tide, supposedly, in Latin America. There were no basic changes against the neoliberal policies in Chile and privatization under Bachelet?

PABLO ABUFOM: Well, that’s why that slogan became so known during this crisis—the idea that it is not about 30 pesos, it’s not about the subway fare hike but it’s about 30 years of neoliberal policies—so the continuity of the regime, of the Pinochet regime, in terms of their economic and political and social policies during the democratic regimes of the Concertación and the Nueva Mayoría, the two coalitions of the center left that governed the country during these past 30 years. It’s very clear for many of—for the people in Chile—so even the government of Michelle Bachelet and other so-called socialist governments in Chile have basically continued to deepen the neoliberal policies and keep privatization in place.

So when you have a public healthcare system and pension system that are completely taken by the logic that it’s for profit, then you can understand that people are basically living in poverty in Chile. And when they are not living in poverty, it’s because they are basically taking debt to pay not just for cars or luxuries, but also for basic stuff like food and housing.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have Bachelet who served before and after the two terms of Piñera, and now she is returning as head of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate, as you pointed out, the human rights abuses that are going on right now in Chile around these mass protests, when you have a million people out in the streets. She herself a torture survivor under Pinochet, her and her mother held. Her father ultimately died in custody. Can you talk about the significance of this? But then also, you have the leaderless uprising and you have the more organized sectors that you are also very much a part of, like the teachers, the unions, and what you see happening right now with them?

PABLO ABUFOM: Well, one thing is we hope that the U.N. Human Rights Commission coming to Chile makes a difference. We know that Amnesty International is also trying to investigate for a report, and we have the National Human Rights Institute giving out reports every day. Of course, the figure of Bachelet is very important in Chile. She became one of the first presidents after the massive, huge mobilization of students—college and high school students—in 2011.

And after that, we saw the real face of the regime that is so entrenched in Chilean society. That even when you have a government that is saying that it’s going to make reforms in terms of responding to social demands, we see that the demand for free education became just more scholarships, even for private higher education institutions. So the whole system of transferring public funds to private companies is still in place, even during those governments.

And then in terms of the social uprising that we see today, it is basically people are fed up with the system. So it is not just—we can tell this by looking at the response of the people to what the government has been doing. Days after the—on Monday, the government announced that they were going to freeze the subway fare hike, those 30 pesos that we were talking about. And then people continued mobilizing in massive protests and demonstrations, not just in Santiago where the subway is, but also in other cities in the country. And then we see that the government is calling the political establishment for a new social agreement, and people are still on the streets. So we can tell that people are not really looking for that kind of response by the government. They are looking for structural change in terms of the social rights, of social provisions, some kind of social security and definitely the levels of violence that we experience in Chilean society.

And so that means that when we see the unions, the big trade unions and the teachers’ associations and the social movements like the environmental movement and the feminist movement are promoting demands that are deeply felt by Chilean workers and also migrant workers who have become a very important part of our society in the past ten years, we see that that’s not—it’s part of the problem, but it is not enough. It seems that people are looking for radical, structural change, and a change of regime.

So it seems that we are basically looking at a crisis, at a deep crisis of the capitalist and colonial formation of the state in Chile. The unions are already calling for another general strike tomorrow. The port workers and the miners are organizing for a stoppage of their work in the mines and in the ports in Chile. That means that this is not going to end so easily as the government thinks. They changed the Cabinet—they put new faces, young faces in the Cabinet—but it’s not making a difference. Because it seems that they are not really taking into account, they are not really considering, the nature of the civil unrest that it’s basically a social crisis, a social emergency that we are living.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Pablo Abufom, member of the Solidarity Movement, anti-capitalist feminist organization in Chile, also an activist with No Más AFP, an organization seeking to reform the Pinochet-era privatized pension system in Chile. You can go to our website at Democracynow.org to see our continued coverage of the protests in Chile in both Spanish and in English. That does it for our show.

Leave a comment