Chile: enough is enough

There is always a turning point in popular protest. Within the positive actions of the protest an unfortunate event can result in political action adversely affecting those it is meant to benefit. Español

José Zepeda
16 December 2019, 12.00am
University headquarters is set on fire as demonstrations continue against Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, the 50th consecutive day of unrest on December 06, 2019 in Santiago, Chile.
Pablo Rojas Madariaga/NurPhoto/PA Images. All rights reserved.


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Chile today is like a finely layered cake. The base that sustains all the layers is the legitimate demands of the majority of the population. The people have been faced by two severe constraints in their development: the first is enduring one of the most unjust distributions of wealth in the world and second, the social humiliation of a deeply classist country.

The majority of layers above that are then made up of marches, huge street demonstrations, the largest the nation has ever seen, songs in squares and parks, artistic and cultural expressions, good humour with sharp wit and creativity. The dance of a beautiful woman jumping, graceful, with a Chilean flag as if the whole country were flying towards the future. They are energetic protests, but with a smile on their face. The ultras don't laugh.

There are a lot of demands: pensions, health, education, dignity, new constitution, social justice, an effective fight against corruption. In short, a country that is fairer to its people.

But the other layers have spoilt the good.

For someone to think that the destruction of subway stations and public buildings are random and spontaneous acts, demonstrates a lack of common sense.

The fact that there are many people who think the acts of vandalism, the looting of businesses, the burning of public premises are understandable actions derived from injustice, from just rage, or even as revolutionary actions, suggests that people don’t understand how damaging these types of actions can be to their own mobilisations. Acts of this sort are not wanted and should be condemned without qualms or qualifications.

There’s nothing heroic about crime.

Human Rights organizations condemn state violence and repression. They have done so because some poice officers have taken advantage of their power to commit sexual abuse, torture, beatings and other unspeakable ill-treatment.

But state violence cannot be a reason for street violence, much less for crime. The means do not justify the end, on the contrary, there are means that deny the end.

That’s why it is dangerous for those who are social representatives to oppose judicial measures that seek to sanction abuses and separate violent riots from legitimate and peaceful protests. It is true that the Anti-Sacking Bill contains errors and oversights that must be resolved. In the Senate, it has become clear that there will be a significant amendment of the text of the law; but what matters and what we should all support is to have an instrument that allows us to effectively pursue and condemn looting and destruction.

There are a lot of demands: pensions, health, education, dignity, new constitution, social justice, an effective fight against corruption. In short, a country that is fairer to its people

Civil disobedience is used as a justification, as if it gives a carte blanche for everything. On the contrary, civil disobedience in a democratic state does not need to resort to violence. It can only call into question the rule of law if certain norms are made with the express intention of subduing or causing harm to all or part of the population. Nor does it ignore the mandate of the law. There are social representatives who know this perfectly well, especially those social leaders who went through the bitter experiences of the military dictatorship. They should value and defend the rule of law as well as show the necessary strength to oppose energetically actions that should not be tolerated. Actions that are refusable, literally criminal, and punishable, which endanger our democracy. When the rule of law does not prevail, the strongest triumph and, of course, the weakest lose. There are things that democracy cannot tolerate without serious impact on all.

There are two things that are odd about this movement:

First, the Social Unity Table is not taking responsibility to recognise that, whilst a lot can be achieved, not everything can. The maximalist goals are not realistic because every social demand, however legitimate it may be, is still affected by the limits of what is possible. To see any concession as weakness is a stubbornness that challenges what is possible, or to attribute magical meaning to life. As if through a movement we could change reality. What is good for fiction is bad for politics.

Initiating the path towards a New Constitution was unthinkable 50 days ago; increasing basic pensions immediately by 50% for people over 80 and in 24 months for everyone over 65 was not in anyone's calculations; having exchanged a tax reform that returned $800 million dollars to the richest for another that imposes them higher taxes; reversing the 9% increase in electricity and then reducing electricity costs by a small percentage (3%); eliminating the total payment or payment of 50% of contributions for people with an income below 600.000 or 1.500.000 Chilean pesos (US $800 or 2.000) respectively and, of course, the freezing of the subway ticket tariff, all are part of a larger set of the early achievements of the "social uprising" conquests of the people of Chile; these are advances in 50 days that would otherwise have taken years.

The role of social and political leaders is to publicize and value achievements. This helps make the movements meaningful and can increase confidence in the ability of social action to generate change, encouraging the continuation of peaceful mobilisations leading to profound transformations: pensions, health, education, redistributive measures and the ending abuse.

Denial only helps to demobilize; to disappoint and frustrate social movements. We know, in other countries with different contexts and demands, people stopped taking to the streets because they felt that their effort and sacrifice was no longer worth it. Let's not make the same mistake.

The second is the lack of solidarity and empathy with the people. Yes, the people, those who go to work every day and are left without transport. The rich do not travel by subway and if there are difficulties, they take their money from the tax havens, or leave the country with their wealth or, as they did in the recent past, take total control of it with the use of force.

Yes, there are people who are afraid to go out into the street after six o'clock in the evening because of fear of being attacked.

There are people on the street because their businesses have been burned and everything has been stolen. Honest people, workers, neighbours, our friends and families. Don’t forget them and don’t be indifferent to them. They need our help and understanding.

Yes, there are people, the majority of people who support the protests but are totally against the violence. As opinion polls show convincingly, 98 percent reject violence.

The future of Chile is in our hands

Yes, the people who want to live better and who fervently want the crisis and irrational violence to end demand and support as essential the implementation of the reforms that result from their just demands. They are not satisfied with the short sightedness, and at this point, blindness of the president which does not allow him to see, nor understand, that the search for a new social pact is urgent for the whole nation in order to safeguard our democracy.

A range of opposition: prominent figures of the ruling party, especially parliamentarians and the president of Renovación Nacional himself, right-wing businessmen, intellectuals and political scientists from the broadest political spectrum, representatives of the most important social organizations and most important of all: the millions of Chilean men and women who have taken to the streets, filling squares, parks and avenues - for the first time in our history - from the most affluent sectors to the most humble populations. They have come together to demand profound changes and to tell the president that this crisis cannot be solved with band aids and even less with the use of force. As the president of RN said: the police will not fix this.

The President has ceased to be part of the solution and is now part of the problem. Some analysts argue that he IS the problem. The spontaneous cry of "Piñera's resignation" has been joined by renowned political analysts who argue that the anticipated end of the presidential term is a scenario that should be reconsidered, without altering the framework of our democracy and our rule of law. Yet it would be an undesirable and regrettable solution. I sincerely believe that the great majority of the actors in this crisis will try to avoid it. President help us a little.

The future of Chile is in our hands, this is not a cliché. Today we are all responsible, we can all walk towards the abyss or towards a horizon of peace and social justice. It requires the will to build, to agree, to talk and, of course, to give in. Yes, there is nothing humiliating about giving in for the collective and superior good, which is how great nations are forged. It is not as exciting as feeling part of a legion in fierce struggle, as a champion that will go down in history. Such is democracy. Sometimes unfair, other times

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