*A note from Devil’s Advocate columnist Carlos Barón: I asked my friend René Castro how he viewed what was going on in Chile in the past month. René became a respected member of the Artistic community of the Mission (and of San Francisco) in the few years he spent in the United States. He now lives in Chile. This is his letter:
Chile is a land of earthquakes, of tsunamis. In winter, its Southern Pacific Ocean features gigantic waves.
What we have experienced in this past month is a Social Earthquake. Like a real earthquake, it exhibits unpredictable results. This time, of human behavior.
To some, it is an attempt against Private Property, sacred to the Chilean democratic representative system. A representative democracy that does not represent everyone and that it has shown an incapacity to contain the tremendous rejection it provokes. A system that defends all that is private, including private enterprise and private power.
But those who are unhappy with that formula say, “The private system has deprived us. It has deprived us of Health, of a just Education, it has deprived us of Fair salaries, of fair Retirements, deprive us of Justice. Where is the justice in that?
The response from the government has been the militarization of the country, thus acknowledging its own incapacity to politically control the difficult balance between those who hold and abuse the power and those who have to obey them blindly.
Society is maintained by a fragile equilibrium between political power and its military apparatus, but that depends on the tacit respect from the citizenry to the social order.
This social order no longer deserves respect and that has created this Social Earthquake. An earthquake provoked by the inability to express discontent by those of us who have been—for decades—complaining with a mute cry, confused by the manipulations of the official press, that strives to make us think —helped by the President of the nation—that “we live in an oasis, in comparison to the rest of the Latino American countries.” But the inhabitants of the “oasis” have said “Enough!”
The inability of the ruling class to see its own inequity, that obtuse vision claiming that only they—the ones in power—can determine what is right and correct, have pushed an important part of our society on onto the streets, to reclaim what is justly theirs. Those in power responded by militarizing the conflict, with curfews and a state of siege.
We lived that in the past (with the 1973 military regime) and the result of not dealing with that past cruelty is behind today’s upheaval. The same military, ecclesiastic, judicial, legislative and political hierarchies, are being questioned for multiple crimes against the social order.
Nothing could contain the discontent. There had been too much thievery and collusion, or fixing of prices by the corporate class, too many illegal political contributions, or robberies by members of “The Forces of Order” (Police and military) and the tax evasion by the rich.
Politicians, from the Government Palace, characterized the protesters as delinquents, terrorists, hordes of vandals on the bottom of society and never as legitimate people demanding social justice.
But Chilean people are not blind…although now—literally—they are shooting at their eyes. They see very well and they also know that those clearly guilty will not receive their well-deserved punishment.
The traditional Left is also part of the problem, because they have not exercised their function as controllers from the opposition and until now, they add themselves to a kind of acquiescing silence that appears to defend its very existence, instead of leading the questioning of the ruling status. Its representatives keep on acting in defense of a “transition to democracy,” a posture which no longer seduces anyone, if it ever had that quality.
Why would the Political Class want to lose their guarantees in a system that—although dysfunctional—favors them?
The result of the largest protests in the history of Chile have are leaving behind dozens of dead people, hundreds of wounded and thousands of civilian detentions.
They also leave behind a record worthy of The Guinness of Horror for President Sebastián Piñera: in less than a month, 217 people have suffered severe ocular trauma, due to the shotgun blasts with rubber bullets (some with metal inside), shot by policemen that the Minister of the Interior will not control.
What people now want, continuing their struggle to get it, is a Total Change to the Constitution and a New Social Pact, from which that must be born.
A New Constitution that should be designed by all the actors in the country, including the common people and the politicians who know how to interpret the social discontent but will not try to benefit from it.
The people of Chile are no longer willing to dance just any music they play for them. This is a rebellion with a rhythm marked their own drums, that demand liberty, equality and dignity.
The Social Earthquakes are tremendous. Although painful, we must learn to live with them, become part of their waves.