Two months of Chilean resistance

Enduring heavy police and military repression for two months, Chileans stand firm in their demand for a new inclusive constitution

December 21, 2019 by Tanya Wadhwa
Despite heavy police and military repression, Chileans stand firm in their demand for a new inclusive constitution. Photo: Frente Fotográfico

December 18 marked two months since the Chilean people began their struggle against the neoliberal model which has made Chile one of the most unequal countries in the region. The neoliberal model has been in place since the last civic-military dictatorship and has been intensified by the austerity measures of the right-wing government of President Sebastián Piñera.

For the past two days, tens of thousands of people have been mobilizing to commemorate the two months of struggle and to continue raising demands for the resignation of Piñera and a new inclusive constitution through a National Constituent Assembly.

In the capital, Santiago, thousands of people have been gathering at the iconic Dignity Plaza, formerly known as Plaza Italia, to mobilize with utensils, pots and pans, music and chants.

However, once again, the repressive apparatus of the Chilean state struck back with tremendous force against the mobilizations. During Friday’s protest, the National Police force, the Carabineros, attempted to completely block access to the plaza and arrived with one thousand officers to the dignity plaza armed with pellet guns, tear gas, stun grenades, tanks with water cannons and dozens of police vans.

Police brutally attacked protesters. One video circulating on social media depicts a young protester being run over and crushed by two police tanks. His family members reported that he miraculously was not killed but suffered four fractures, polytraumas and several other grave injuries.

Despite the heavily armed attack, protesters on Friday managed to retake the Dignity Plaza and drove police out.

Police and military repression

In the last two months of anti-government protests, the Chilean State has unleashed an unprecedented level of repression against protesters, violating all established international standards on the use of force against civilians. Thousands of cases of illegal detentions, torture, sexual abuse, rapes, political persecution, criminalization of social protests, militarization of public spaces, restrition on press freedom, among other human rights violations, have been registered in the country and have been condemned nationally and internationally.

On December 16, Chile’s Association of Doctors, Pharmaceutical Chemists and the Health Resistance Movement reported that traces of caustic soda and pepper spray compounds had been found in a sample of water shot by police against demonstrators. Caustic soda or sodium hydroxide can cause skin and eye irritation. Its direct contact with skin or eye causes thermal and chemical burns, leading to deep-tissue injuries.

According to the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) in Chile, between October 17 & December 12, due to heavy police repression, over 25 people have been killed, 9,308 people have been arrested, 1,434 have been tortured or sexually harassed and 3,461 have been injured. Additionally, over 357 people have suffered eye injuries and vision loss due to short-range firing by the Security Forces.

During the past two months of anti-government protest, over 357 people have suffered eye injuries and vision loss due to short-range firing by the Security Forces. Photo: Frente Fotográfico

Despite the alarming number of human rights violations and their national and international condemnation, Piñera’s government has not let up.

Last month, a legal complaint against Piñera “as the perpetrator of the crime against humanity” was filed in a court in Santiago. The court had accepted the case and initiated the investigation. If Piñera is held responsible for the consequences of his political decisions, he will be sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison.

Origin of the anti-government protests

The social outbreak began on October 18 and 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 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 anti-people policies introduced by Dictator Augusto Pinochet and intensified by Piñera.

New Constitution

In the face of the social discontent, the Chilean government agreed to write a new constitution but with a catch. On November 15, the ruling party and a small group of opposition parties negotiated on terms to replace the existing constitution and reached an agreement to hold an entry plebiscite for a new constitution in April 2020.

The referendum in April 2020 will raise two questions: whether or not a new Constitution is needed and, if so, what type of body should write it, a “Mixed Constituent Convention” or a “Constituent Convention”. The “Mixed Constituent Convention” will have a 50% representation of parliamentarians and 50% of elected members for this purpose. The “Constituent Convention” will be have a 100% representation of members elected by citizens for this work.

However, mobilizing popular and social sectors rejected the agreement because it didn’t guarantee the creation of a Constituent Assembly and the mechanisms of plurinational participation and gender parity that the social movements had been demanding.

It was also rejected by the Communist Party of Chile (PCC) and other left-wing parties grouped in the Broad Front.

Together these parties presented a proposal to include gender parity, representatives of Indigenous communities and independent delegates in the Constituent Convention.

On December 18, it was voted in the Chamber of Deputies, along with the constitutional reform bill that modifies Chapter XV of the Constitution, enabling the constitutional process and a referendum. The Chamber of Deputies of Chile approved the bill that proposed to reform the Constitution, but the initiative presented by the representatives of left-wing political parties was rejected due to lack of quorum.

On December 19, it was again debated and voted upon in the Chamber of Deputies and received the parliamentary approval.

“Although there are things to be resolved, which we hope will happen in the Senate, we are happy because this is a significant step for a Democratic Constitutional Process,” tweeted Camila Vallejo Dowling, legislator of the PCC.

The bill is expected to be debated in the Senate in the upcoming week and holds significant importance in calming the popular unrest.

The same day, on December 19, the Chilean Senate approved the amendment of Chapter XV of the Constitution to advance the reform of the Magna Carta with 38 votes in favor, 3 against and no abstention and gave a green light to the constitutional process.

Plebiscite in April

According to the text of the approved reform, the entry plebiscite will be held on April 26, 2020, in which Chileans must choose whether or not they want a change in the Magna Carta sanctioned by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

If the need for a new Constitution gets approved in April, the election of the members for either of the two authorities: “Mixed Constituent Convention” and “Constituent Convention” will be held in October 2020, along with the regional and municipal elections.