On November 12, hundreds of thousands of people mobilized across Chile to manifest their rejection of the right-wing government of President Sebastián Piñera and his neoliberal economic policies.
The mobilizations were a part of the national strike called for by the Social Unity Board, a platform that brings together more than 100 social movements, students’ organizations and trade unions. The board called for the strike to strengthen its demand for a National Constituent Assembly and a new constitution to end the abusive neoliberal model enforced since the last civic-military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
According to the board, more than 90% of the public sector and more than 60% of the private sector joined the general strike and halted their activities. This includes port, education, healthcare, banking, agriculture, mining, construction and transport workers.
Protesters blocked several important roads and highways in major cities of the country beginning early in the morning. Marches and demonstrations outside government buildings were carried out in all parts of the country throughout the day.
In the capital Santiago, over 300,000 citizens, workers, activists, union and social leaders peacefully marched from the Plaza Italia or Plaza Baquedano to the state government office, La Moneda Palace. At the seat of the government, they were repressed by the national security forces, the Carabineros, who used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
After the violent dispersal, thousands of people returned to Plaza Italia to continue their demonstration. Plaza Italia has been the epicenter of the massive protests and because of its centrality protesters have begun calling it the “Dignity Plaza” or “Plaza de la Dignidad”.
Amid the strike, the protesters came up with an idea to change the name of the plaza on the Google Maps application. To promote the idea and to demonstrate the strength of the people, protesters ran an online campaign on social networks and urged all Chileans to go to Google Maps, select the Plaza Baquedano [Plaza Italia] and suggest a change to the original name. Within hours, they emerged victorious as the name “Plaza de la Dignidad“ appeared on Google Maps thanks to the massive number of requests.
The anti-government protests in Chile entered a fourth week on November 11, this Monday. The popular uprising was sparked by a high school students’ protest against the increase in the cost of public transportation services in the capital. On October 11, high school students began refusing to buy metro tickets en masse and jumped the turnstiles to protest the hike.
The innovative resistance led by the Chilean youth, served as the catalyst for the awakening the long standing discontent in the country. Since October 18, these protests transformed into a demonstration against the austerity and anti-people policies introduced by Pinochet and intensified by Piñera.
Police and military repression
To suppress the popular uprising, Piñera adopted and implemented heavy repressive measures which reminded many of the brutality of the dictatorship under Pinochet. He declared a state of emergency and curfews in different regions of the country which allowed the government to deploy the military in several cities across the country to fulfill the role of the police.
Security forces have been brutally repressing the social protests with tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons, rubber pellets and even live bullets.
The National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) in Chile, reported that in the past four weeks of anti-government protests, the heavy police repression was responsible for 23 deaths, 5,629 people have been arrested, more than 2,009 have been injured and 180 have been threatened, tortured or sexually harassed.
The patriarchal nature of the police repression has been denounced widely by feminist groups in Chile and across the continent. The INDH report outlined the torture mechanisms employed by security forces against female detainees such as forced undressing, touching of women’s bodies with fire arms and simulating penetration with the same, as well as threats of rape.
The criminalization of social protests, the militarization of public spaces and the violations of human rights during police repression and detention, has received widespread condemnation nationally and internationally. The disproportionate, violent response of security forces to protesters under the command of Piñera, has led many sectors of the Chilean society to demand Piñera’s resignation.
Last week, a legal complaint against Piñera “as the perpetrator of the crime against humanity” was filed in a court in Santiago. The court accepted the case and has initiated the investigation.
Demand for a Constituent Assembly and a New Constitution
In the face of the social uprising and discontent, a day before the national strike, the Chilean government agreed to write a new constitution but with a catch. Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel informed that the president, cabinet members and political allies would lead the process of re-writing the constitution and later the draft of the new constitution would be put to a public referendum.
However, Chilean society rejected Piñera’s intention to change the Magna Carta through a Constituent Congress and demanded to participate directly in the construction of the new constitution through a Constituent Assembly.
The people of Chile do not want to vote for a text written without them, a move which reflects the current crisis of representation and lack of democracy in the country. People want the process to be democratic and comprehensive. They want to participate directly, to be able to guarantee rights which are lacking in the current constitution.
The Social Unity Board has given an ultimatum to the government to take necessary actions within the next few days, or else, the organizations and unions grouped in the board would call for an indefinite general strike.
On November 11, all opposition parties in Chile, such as the Communist Party of Chile, Liberal Party, Democratic Revolution, Pro Country, Christian Democracy, Common, Humanist Party, Party For Democracy, Socialist Party, Social Convergence and Regionalist Party, joined this national claim and signed an agreement that proposes the call of plebiscite to convene a National Constituent Assembly with representation of popular sectors.