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The Right to live in Peace
Demonstrators gather at Plaza Italia, Santiago de Chile, to protest the right wing government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, on Nov. 4, 2019. Courtesy: Flickr/ -nando-
Carlos Barón

In the last few weeks, Chile has been rocked by protests. By now, many among those who read these lines might have heard about those events, reactions against the policies of the right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera. 

It was a surprise to many people around the world, considering that the main script that has been put forth about that South American country has been one that describes it as “an economic jewel.” 

The current situation, Hamlet might have asked: “Is there something rotten in the State of Chile?” 

The action that started the latest protests—middle and high school students jumping over the turnstiles of the Metro system to avoid payment—is only the tip of an enormous iceberg that lies underneath the now convulsed waters of Chile.

This is a situation that has been fermenting for many years of inequity, in one of the countries with the worst distribution of income in the world.

Demonstrators gather at Plaza Italia, Santiago de Chile, to protest the right wing government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, on Nov. 4, 2019. Courtesy: Flickr/ -nando-

The Chilean government responded to the protests with violence and its president shamelessly declared that “We are at war.” 

One of the biggest royal “we” in memory. What did he mean by “we”?  “We” as in me, myself and my friends? Against whom? The people of Chile?  

The degree of violence applied by police and military personnel has not been seen in Chile since the U.S.-backed military coup of Sept. 11, 1973, which put the general Augusto Pinochet in power for over 17 years. 

I asked a friend in Chile to send me her impressions about what is happening there. She is both a University professor and a journalist. 

I will share a few of her words:

“The last 10 days have profoundly affected the entire Chilean population. The emotions are diverse and constantly changing. Rejection against the militarization of the country and against the repressive measures ordered by the government. Happiness because Chile finally woke up and the colorful protests and marches make us feel closer, like brothers and sisters. Hope that at last deeply desired changes can actually happen. A majority reaction against vandalism and robberies.  Solidarity and spontaneous organization among peoples from different territories. Worry about what might be the way out from this institutional and political crisis.”

Demonstrators gather at Plaza Italia, Santiago de Chile, to protest the right wing government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, on Nov. 4, 2019. Courtesy: Flickr/ -nando-

Almost 50 years have passed since that odious date, Sept. 11, 1973. First, 17 years of the Pinochet dictatorship, then the last 30 years of a very slow return to an insufficient democracy … still ruled by a Constitution created by the dictatorship. 

No post-Pinochet government has been willing or able to create a new constitution, a key demand raised in the protests of today.

My Chilean friend adds: “The protests and demonstrations do not have a visible head, that is an organization, a party or conglomerate to follow. They are spontaneous and they respond to social media postings.”

In Chile, right now, there is open insurrection against the curfew and the state of emergency declared by the government and its resulting brutality. All over the country, the Chilean people have occupied the main avenues, especially those that coincide with the Metro stations. They have loudly hit pots and pans with wooden spoons. 

They are entire families—children, grandparents, mothers, fathers, adolescents—who passionately express that they are tired of the physical and economic abuses.

Demonstrators gather at Plaza Italia, Santiago de Chile, to protest the right wing government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, on Nov. 4, 2019. Courtesy: Flickr/ -nando-

From my personal perspective, what has been most gratifying to observe is the fact that a clear and undeniable link has been established between the past and the present. The protesters of today, young and old, are marching forth aided by, among others, three key references to the 1973 coup and the repression that was installed in Chile.

First, there is a musical link, exemplified by a song created in the late 1960s, by the immortal Víctor Jara and originally sung in support of the main leader of the North Vietnamese, Ho Chi Minh. In Spanish, it’s called “El derecho de vivir en paz” (The Right to live in Peace). It is a sweetly rocking song, with a very easy chant to repeat: “The Right to live in peace!” That right is at the core of the current Chilean struggle and the song is used everywhere, both inside Chile and all over the world.

Another strong link to the past is the last radio address given by Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973. 

There, towards the end of his address, he says to the listeners: “Be certain that, sooner than later, the great avenues will open up again and free men (and women) will march on them to build a better society.” 

That final speech was resounded clearly with the more than 1 million people who marched last week in Santiago, the Chilean capital.

Millions more also have marched all over the country since that first middle school kid jumped over the turnstiles of the Metro and precipitated the current protests.

Finally, that chant, which was musicalized in 1972 by the Chilean composer Sergio Ortega, “The People, United, will never be defeated!”  Once again it resonates, proud and pristine, all over Chile and all over the world.

There is something called a collective consciousness. It refers to memories shared by a whole people. Memories that persevere, in spite of the official efforts to eradicate them, distort them or minimize them. Or to deny their very existence.

But the collective consciousness remains, ready to serve.

Knowledge and understanding of past evils will prevent their repetition.

The entire world deserves the right to live in peace. Today, the struggle of the Chilean helps us to loudly wish for that.

Story by: Carlos Barón

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