Three months of struggle in Chile

For months, hundreds of thousands of Chileans have been standing firm in their demand for a new inclusive constitution through a National Constituent Assembly, enduring brutal state repression

January 22, 2020 by Tanya Wadhwa
During a demonstration outside the government palace on January 18, thousands of protesters raised their left fists and covered their one eye with the other hand, demanding justice for the 405 people, who have suffered eye injuries and vision loss due to short-range firing by the national security forces. Photo: RT news

This January 18, the struggle of the Chilean people against the regime of president Sebastián Piñera completed three months. The motives for the uprising are diverse, but overall people in Chile are tired of living under the neoliberal economic model which has made basic necessities such as education, health, and public services expensive and out of reach for the working class.

For the last three months, hundreds of thousands of students, workers and members of social movements, human rights organizations and trade unions, have been mobilizing across the country demanding President Piñera’s resignation and a new inclusive constitution through a National Constituent Assembly.

On the three months anniversary of the popular uprising in Chile, several demonstrations, rallies and marches were held throughout the country.

In the capital, Santiago, a “silent march against repression” was carried out to pay tribute to the victims of police repression in the last three months and to denounce violations of human rights in the country. Thousands of people, mostly dressed in black, gathered at the emblematic Dignity Plaza, formerly known as the Plaza Italia, and marched to the La Moneda palace, state government office, demanding an end to all forms of military and police repression.

In an act of solidarity with the 405 people, who have suffered eye injuries and vision loss due to short-range firing by the national security forces, the protesters raised their left fists, demanding justice, and covered their one eye with the other hand during the demonstration outside the La Moneda palace.

The mobilization was called for by a number of organizations, such as the Workers’ United Center of Chile (CUT), the Colegio de Profesores de Chile, the National Coordinators of High School Students, the Coordinator of Victims of Eye Trauma, the groups of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees and Relatives of Political Prisoners, among others. The main objective of the march was to draw the attention of the Chilean society towards the repressive strategy used by Piñera’s administration and exercised by the national police force, the Carabineros.

‘The revolution continues in 2020’. Photo: Frente Fotográfico

State repression

In the last three 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, restrictions on press freedom, among other human rights violations, have been registered in the country and have been condemned nationally and internationally.

According to the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) in Chile, between October 17 & January 15, due to heavy police repression, over 27 people have been killed, 10,253 people have been arrested, 3,649 have been severely injured, 412 have been tortured and threatened, 191 have been sexually harassed and 842 have been dealt with excessive force.

Reports citing numbers released by the Attorney General’s office claim that over 22,000 people have been detained in the past three months, with just over 1,000 being legally processed.

Popular disapproval of Piñera’s government

A recently published survey, conducted by the Center for Public Studies of Chile (CEP) in the month of December last year, revealed that only 6% of the Chilean population approves of the Piñera government. Additionally, Sebastián Piñera has only 7% positive evaluation as a political figure.

Likewise, the results of the study showed that 81% of the people consulted believed that the government acted badly or very badly against the social outbreak and only 6% approved its way of managing the same.

Legal action against the President and other government officials

Last week, on January 14, the coalition of left-wing political parties, Frente Amplio or Broad Front, filed a legal complaint against President Piñera and other government functionaries for crimes against humanity took place in the context of the repression of the popular insurrection.

The legal action identifies the Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel, the former Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick, the mayor of the Metropolitan Region Felipe Guevara and the director general of the Carabineros Mario Rozas.

The complaint holds these officials responsible for murders, torture and unlawful physical, mental and sexual coercion, rape, illegal detention and severe eye injuries.

Origin of the protests

The social rebellion began on October 18, 2019, 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 larger movement against the abusive neoliberal constitution in place since Pinochet’s dictatorship, raising demands for a new constitution that would structurally reform the Chilean society.

​​​​​​​Citizens expect the new constitution to be more inclusive and incorporate social rights, such as the rights to education, healthcare, housing, employment and decent pensions.

Entry plebiscite for a new constitution in April

Last year, on December 19, the Chilean Senate approved the amendment of Chapter XV of the Constitution that enables the constitutionally process to reform of the Magna Carta and called to hold an entry plebiscite for a new constitution in April this year.

The referendum on April 26 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, popular and social sectors that have been mobilizing on the streets 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. As such, they decided to continue their resistance.

The Communist Party of Chile (PCC) and other left-wing parties grouped in the Broad Front have also been fighting their battles in the parliament for these essential popular demands.

Last month, these parties presented a proposal to include gender parity, representatives of Indigenous communities and independent delegates in the constitution process. On December 19, the bills were debated and voted upon in the Chamber of Deputies and received parliamentary approval.

Yesterday, on January 21, the Senate approved in general the bill that sought gender parity and participation of independent delegates in the process of rewriting of the constitution. However, the Senate now will debate and vote on each particular article of the bill. Several modifications, largely with respect to defining the mechanism to facilitate the participation of independents and achieve gender parity simultaneously, are expected.