Since Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet stepped down 30 years ago, discontent throughout the country has been brewing. On the surface — Chile has one of the most — if not the most stable economies in South America. The value of the Chilean peso was high and cities like the capital, Santiago appeared to be booming and modern. But beneath the shiny facade, Chile’s many social and economic inequalities have reached their boiling point.
It’s been one month since Chile’s president Sebastian Piñera announced a 30 peso hike in the train fare. It was the drop that spilled the bucket. What began as protests and demonstrations held by high school kids as young as 13 and 14, quickly escalated and has become a full-on revolution. The hashtags #RenunciaPiñera #ChileDespierto have hundreds of thousands of hits. The slogans “It’s not about 30 pesos, it’s about 30 years” and “Neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die in Chile” are on everyone’s lips. But to really understand what is happening we have to go back 30 years.
Chile’s CIA Coup
Pinochet overthrew President Salvador Allende in 1973. Allende was the first Socialist to be democratically elected after three failed bids for the presidency. He was known for his progressive social reforms. They included safety laws protecting workers in the factories, raising the minimum wage, maternity care, health care for all, higher pensions for widows, and free lunch programs for school children. He also planned to seize and redistribute land and improve the welfare of Chile’s poorest citizens. Allende also allocated resources and created scholarships to integrate Mapuche children into the education system.
As early as the 1950’s the US State Department set up the “Chile project.” It was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation with the intent of influencing Chilean economic thinking. Between 1962 through 1964, declassified documents show that the CIA spent a total of $2.6 million to finance the campaign of Allende’s rival, Eduardo Frei. They also spent $3 million in anti-Allende propaganda. On 11 September 1973, the Chilean military backed by the CIA moved to oust Allende. He vowed he would never resign in his last speech to the Chilean people. The next day the military claimed Allende had “committed suicide” with an AK-47 rifle gifted to him by Fidel Castro.
The Take Over
Augusto Pinochet took over and immediately proclaimed himself the “Supreme Chief of the Nation.” He proceeded to suspend the Constitution and the Congress. He executed his opposition, implemented a curfew, abolished labor rights, imposed strict censorship, and banned all political and “subversive” activities. There are 40,018 known victims of the regime. Things like torture, rape, murder, exile were the most common tactics. But thousands more are still missing and the numbers are still debated. Dissenters were often labeled communists so that they could be targeted. Many were exiled, many were held and tortured in the secret Nazi colony “Colonia Dignidad.” Germany recently agreed to pay up to 11,000 Euros to the victims.
In 1974 Pinochet’s Decree 701 opened up the Wallmapu region, the Mapuche’s ancestral territory, to lumber corporations with generous tax incentives and government subsidies. Naturally, the Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous population, opposed this. Bloody campaigns against the Mapuche have gone on ever since. Pinochet’s Anti-Terrorist Law 18.314 is still used today to label Mapuche activists as terrorists and to hold them for years on “witness testimony.” The most recent assassinations were of Macarena Valdez and Camilo Catrillanca. Both were indigenous leaders opposing ecological abuse and the stealing of their lands. Valdez was killed in her home and it was made to look like a suicide. Catrillanca was killed by a gunshot to the head, the police claimed it was an accident.
The “Chicago Boys”
Pinochet was also quick to deregulate the economy and make it ripe for American corporate imperialism. But he had help from the “Chicago boys” when inflation and global depression hit Chile in 1975. The Chicago boys were a group of University of Chicago trained economists that were unleashed on Latin America as ambassadors for widespread deregulation, privatization, and other free-market policies that would benefit the US. They would go on to become high ranking officials in Pinochet’s government and in governments all over Latin America.
As could be expected, most of the beneficiaries of Pinochet’s policies were foreign banks such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. His policies of economic deregulation and the privatization of state-owned companies have had lasting effects on Chilean society. To this day, his constitution and policies are still in play. Free market capitalism has sucked the middle class dry and created two classes; The ultra-rich and the poor.
Current president Sebastian Piñera ran on a centrist platform but as many suspected, he flipped to the far-right when he was elected. He’s in close contact with many of the same men who supported Pinochet. Some are even members of his cabinet. Under Piñera there has been a sharp increase in the cost of electricity, medicine, and just living in general — while wages and pensions remain the same. “We are at war with a powerful, relentless enemy that respects nothing nor anyone,” Piñera said on Chilean TV. Those are the words infamously spoken by Pinochet and “the enemy” he’s referring to are the Chilean people.
In 2019, everyday Chileans cannot afford basic necessities. Far from the government programs of Allende’s time, privatization has seeped into every facet of Chilean life. Pinochet privatized water, power, and social security. People’s pensions are up in the air being bought and traded by multinational corporations, while they don’t actually own any shares in those companies. People who have retired don’t have enough money to get them through the month. And working people have no idea if they’ll have any pensions at all.
“La Tele Miente” (The TV Lies)
For the last month, marches have gone on every day in cities like Santiago, Vina Del Mar, La Serena, and Valparaiso. They show no signs of letting up. The people have vowed not to waver until Piñera steps down. Although Chilean Senate President Jaime Quintana announced they would build a 100% democratic social contract, Chileans don’t buy it. And why would they, Piñera has a measly 15% approval rating.
While the American media continues to call these “violent protests” and “riots” they totally ignore the peaceful demonstrations and marches that number in the millions. They also ignore that this is a mess made by the U.S. What we don’t hear about in the news are the countless non-violent protests in which Chileans sing songs, dance, and play instruments in unison. Average Chileans condemn violence and looting. It’s been widely documented on social media that much of the violence has been perpetrated by the military or “milicos” as they call them. Military men have been seen starting fires, running over people in the streets, dragging old women by their hair, beating teenagers, shooting into peaceful crowds, as well as starting chaos dressed in plain clothes and driving civilian vehicles.
One of the most jarring things about the Chilean military is its tactical use of violence against the Chilean people, which should come as no surprise considering they learned their tactics from the Israeli army. But what is known for sure is that the 24 dead being reported by the media is a fabrication. There is no official number of the dead, rapes, or missing people. The National Human Rights Institute has filed 384 legal actions against state entities, including 273 for alleged torture and other cruel treatment. Around 6,362 people, including 759 minors, have been detained and are in custody. Close to 222 have been documented with severe eye injuries and 75 percent of those injuries were caused by milicos purposefully shooting people in the eyes.
What’s Next for Chile?
The people are demanding a new constitution. They are demanding lowered costs of living, lowered medical costs, affordable school, and increased wages. But most of all they are demanding that Piñera step down. Chileans are tired and they are tired of American intervention in their politics and economy. What was once held up as the perfect dreamy example of free-market capitalism has proved to be a nightmare. What was thought to be peace and prosperity was actually the terrible silence of sleep — and Chile is awake now.