In Chile, protesters led a massive national strike Tuesday as they condemned the government’s plans to rewrite the country’s Constitution, which dates back to Augusto Pinochet’s military regime. Chile’s interior minister announced Sunday the government would draft a new constitution that Congress would then rewrite and put to a public referendum. But protesters say the people should be involved with the rewriting of the constitution from the beginning and that this is an attempt by Sebastián Piñera’s government to delay political and social reforms in Chile. The Chilean authorities have killed at least 20 people and wounded thousands more since the protests erupted on October 19 in response to a subway fare hike and quickly grew into a revolt against austerity and economic inequality. Amnesty International has denounced the Chilean government for widespread human rights violations against protesters. From Santiago, we speak with Pablo Abufom, a member of the Solidaridad movement, an anti-capitalist and feminist organization in Chile.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Chile, where protesters led a massive national strike Tuesday as they condemned the government’s plans to rewrite the country’s Constitution, which dates back to Augusto Pinochet’s military regime. Chile’s interior minister announced Sunday the government would draft a new constitution, that Congress would then rewrite and put to a public referendum. But protesters say the people should be involved with the rewriting process from the beginning and that this is an attempt by Sebastián Piñera’s government to delay political and social reforms in the Chile. This is Piñera speaking on Tuesday.
PRESIDENT SEBASTIÁN PIÑERA: [translated] All political forces, all social organizations, every Chilean of good faith, we need to unite for three big, urgent, necessary national agreements: first, an agreement for peace and against violence, to categorically and undoubtedly condemn the actions that have caused so much violence, and which also condemns, with the same strength, those who provoke or tolerate it; second, an agreement for justice, so we can all start together for a robust social agenda that allows for the quick advancement of a more just Chile, a Chile that is more equal and with less abuse, a Chile with greater equality and opportunity and less privilege; and third, an agreement for a new constitution within our democratic institutions, with a clear and effective participation from citizens, with a plebiscite for its ratification so that citizens do not only participate in the ratification of this new constitution, but that they also have the last word in its approval and the construction of the new social pact that Chile needs.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Amnesty International has denounced the Chilean government for widespread human rights violations against protesters. Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement, “President Sebastián Piñera has clearly not taken all the measures open to him to stop the grave human rights violations and possible crimes under international law that have kept occurring in Chile since the beginning of the social protests. This continuity shows there is no genuine willingness to discard a failed strategy or to respond to people’s demands and respect their rights,” they said. The Chilean authorities have killed at least 20 people, wounded thousands more, since the protests erupted October 19th in response to a subway fare hike and quickly grew into a revolt against austerity and economic inequality.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Pablo Abufom, a member of the Solidarity movement, Solidaridad movement, an anti-capitalist, feminist organization in Chile. He’s also activist with No Más AFP, an organization seeking to reform the Pinochet-era privatized pension system in Chile.
We thank you so much, Pablo, for being with us. Thank you so much for joining us from Chile. Explain what’s happening, the mass strike in the streets yesterday and what the change — what the president is proposing for the Constitution and what the people want.
PABLO ABUFOM: Hi, Amy. Thank you for having me on the show again.
Well, the situation, we’re at crucial moment right now. Two days ago, we had a general strike, and almost the entire country was paralyzed. All the ports, several very important mines and also the public sector was completely paralyzed. The healthcare workers and education workers were all striking. And also we had protests in every major city, including massive marches and demonstrations in Santiago. And that was after a large sector of organized labor and other social organizations decided to organize a general strike in order to push the government towards, basically, to stop human rights violations, to take the riot police out of the street, and for new constitution through a constituent assembly, which has become the main political point of contention right now in the country.
And the president, his response, of course, was more of the same. He’s basically saying that the same Congress, the same politicians and the same elite that put us here in this situation should be the ones to write a new constitution. We’re not even sure that he’s talking about actually a new, completely new constitution, because they are — we haven’t seen the actual details of the proposals. But they’re saying that maybe it could just be some constitutional reforms. And also, his response on Tuesday night was more repression, basically. He claimed that they were going to use the — what they call the anti-terrorist laws against people who were protesting, but also not just people who were protesting, but people who would call to violence, as they say, directly or indirectly involved in the marches and demonstrations, as they said. And that seems like a way to say that they’re going to persecute, prosecute individuals and groups that have been involved in the marches and demonstrations.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to a particular kind of violence that’s been deployed against protesters in Chile. Concerns are growing over the number of protesters who have suffered the loss of an eye after being shot by police pellet guns. According to some reports, at least 200 people have been treated for eye injuries, which have often resulted in blindness in one or both eyes. The New York Times spoke with patients inside an eye trauma unit in Chile.
PROTESTER: [translated] He opened fire. A pellet hit me in the eye. The police grabbed me by the hair and dragged me to their truck. They started taunting me, that I’m going to lose my sight, one less eye. The pellet is still inside me right here.
BRENT McDONALD: [translated] It’s inside your eye now? Are you scared, scared that you could lose your eye?
PROTESTER: [translated] But I know God will restore me to what I was before.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s a protester who was shot by a pellet gun at very close range. Pablo Abufom, could you talk about this, what you know of the police deploying this kind of — these kinds of guns and the number of protesters who have been injured?
PABLO ABUFOM: Yeah. So, this is so cruelly and tragically symbolic. We have been chanting for almost four weeks now that Chile has awakened and now the people have opened their eyes, that we have opened our eyes. The police are basically taking our eyes off. And the National Human Rights Institute has at least 200 reported individuals who have been shot in the eye. But we’ve also known from the Association of Doctors that they have received pressure from the government not to report or to underreport those cases. So we still don’t know how many people have lost their sight in one or both eyes, as you said.
This has been very common during the past weeks. And we were already used, sort of, to the tear gas and water cannons by the riot police, but now we’ve seen another level of violence against protesters and just people walking down the streets during those demonstrations. They are shooting old people, young people, even kids. And we all — as of now, we all know someone who has been shot by one of those pellet shotguns by the police. And it seems like they are testing new repression tactics. So, this gives us a sense of what the government and what the Army and the police are thinking of this situation, is that it’s a testing ground for new tactics of repression of civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: And what effect has the ouster of Morales in Bolivia had on the protest in Chile, if they have? And at this point, what do you see happening, Pablo?
PABLO ABUFOM: Well, there’s no clear notion of what the Bolivia situation has on Chile right now, because, as you know, the protest movement doesn’t have just one leadership. There are a lot of movements, organized labors, the feminist movement, the environmentalist movement, but also a mass of people who are organizing in popular assemblies in their neighborhoods. And the political debate, it’s everywhere. You can see people talking about a new constitution, talking about the economic policies that we need for a new Chile, basically. And the situation in Bolivia feels like a tragic turn of events for many people, as the right wing and the extreme right wing are taking advantage of a political crisis in the country. So —
AMY GOODMAN: What was the effects of Michelle Bachelet coming, now the head of the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, former president of Chile, who herself and her mother were tortured under Pinochet? Her father died in custody.
PABLO ABUFOM: Well, actually, Bachelet didn’t come to Chile; she sent a committee. But we still haven’t heard anything from that committee yet. But the human rights situation is very difficult right now, because the police general, the director of the Carabineros, of the police in Chile, is saying that he is not going to expel any officer involved in human rights violations. An audio was leaked, and then the institution confirmed that, that he said that, that he was not going to expel any officer involved in human rights violations. And that’s terrible, because we see that there’s a situation that the riot police, the armed forces in our country are not being regulated by any civilian authority.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Pablo, in addition to the number of people who have been wounded, there have also been over 5,000 people arrested. Can you talk about what their situation is and what prospects there are for a hearing or for their release? Or are some of them being released, have been released?
PABLO ABUFOM: Well, that, we had a report — the last report from the National Rights Institute was four days ago, and that was before the general strike on Tuesday. So, we can guess that there are at least 2,000 more people that were detained in the past four days.
We also have — today is a very important day. It’s one year after a Mapuche young man was killed in the south, in occupied indigenous land. And so today is going to be a day of demonstrations and protests, not only in Santiago, but also in the south. And this is very interesting, because what the Mapuche have been living in the south for 500 years is something that we are seeing right now in a militarized Santiago.
So, what’s happening with the detained is that some of them are being released. Some of them are being withhold in jail during the investigation of their charges. And we see that as sort of like a political punishment for being part of the protests, because, of course, a lot of those people, I mean, they haven’t been even involved in anything. They are just being taken off the streets by the police. So, basically, the police are operating, are acting as a political police, taking people off the streets as a way to normalize the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Thirty seconds. The demand now?
PABLO ABUFOM: Sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Thirty seconds. What is the demand now?
PABLO ABUFOM: Well, a constituent assembly is basically what people are asking. The government is talking about the Congress rewriting the Constitution, but people in their popular assemblies in their neighborhoods are talking about a constituent assembly, of people being involved in actual rewriting the base of our social agreement of our Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Pablo Abufom, we want to thank you so much for being with us from Chile, member of the Solidarity movement, the anti-capitalist, feminist organization in Chile, also active with No Más AFP, an organization seeking to reform the Pinochet-era privatized pension system in Chile.