The flames twinkle brightly in the night sky of Santiago: two churches burn at the end of a symbolic day. Tens of thousands had previously demonstrated peacefully and creatively. “Chile despertó!”, Chile has woken up, echoing above the central Plaza Italia, which many today call “Plaza de la Dignidad”, the place of dignity. It’s October 18, the anniversary of the start of the massive social protests.
And then these pictures: In the evening, a group of masked people contaminated the police and parish church of La Asunción, built in 1867. The flames grab the historic bell tower, sparks fall from the depths.
“Whoever destroyed the building makes me incredibly angry,” said Ursula Eggers, who accompanied the day as a human rights observer. towards a new constitution ”. On the same night, a 26-year-old man was shot dead by police during protests in the poor neighborhood of La Victoria.
After months of corona curfew, the fight for social change is back on the streets. On Sunday, a vote will be taken on whether the country will abandon the old constitution from the time of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and how a new social contract will be drawn up. It is the central demand of the massive protests sparked a year ago by the increase in local transport prices by 30 pesos, the equivalent of 30 cents: the metro stations were on fire, the army was the first since the end of the dictatorship 30 sent to the streets years ago. President Sebastián Piñera spoke of war, his wife of an “alien invasion”. “It’s not about 30 pesos, but about 30 years,” protesters shout to this day.
Experimental Laboratory for Radical Neoliberalism
The 1980 Constitution, drafted and negotiated behind closed doors during the Pinochet military dictatorship, which was in power from 1973 to 1990. The general, who subsequently had people tortured and murdered, transformed Chile into a laboratory for radical neoliberalism using are US-educated economics called “Chicago Boys”. The state has shrunk, social rights have been curtailed and public tasks such as education, health care and pensions have been privatized. “This ideology is anchored in the constitution,” says political scientist Gonzalo Bacigalupo. Numerous reforms fundamentally changed nothing, but the entrenched blocking minorities guaranteed the influence of the elites.
“The rulers are the aliens!” Says Chancho de Guerra, it’s his alias name, “They belong to an elite that has been enriching for years on the back of the people.” The independent filmmaker was at the forefront of the protests. , he documented the demands: for a social health system, fair pensions, free education. Against macho violence, the influence of the Catholic Church, marked by abuse scandals, and the years of oppression of indigenous peoples. And he watched the police handle protesters with brutal rigor. The prosecutor’s office had received more than 4,000 reports against security forces, more than 460 people were injured in the eyes from tear gas cartridges and rubber bullets mixed with metal. Many went blind.
A woman shows a ballot paper asking “Do you want a new constitution?” Photo: Francisco Castillo / Agencia Uno / dpa
“The city was like a war zone, emergency vehicles and tear gas everywhere,” said Ursula Eggers, who at the time only took to the streets with a helmet, safety goggles and gas mask. The report of the UN Human Rights Commission also speaks of large-scale human rights violations by the security forces. To this day, Amnesty International has unsuccessfully called for criminal investigations to the highest level of responsibility: “Torture and ill-treatment were seen as a necessary evil to break the demonstrations – at all costs.” And police brutality continues: On October 2, 2020, a 16-year-old was born during protests by a police officer pushed over a bridge railing. President Piñera remains behind the police.
Chile has long been considered a model country in South America: constant growth, rising living standards, attractive to investors. But while ten percent of Chileans own more than 66 percent of the wealth, half of the population earns only or barely more than the minimum wage of about $ 400, with a living cost comparable to that in Germany. “We work hard and have to borrow money for rent, study or even food,” says Chanco de Guerra.
82 percent want a new constitution
When Chile imposed curfews in March over the pandemic, he joined forces with others to form the “Klan Kiltro” collective, the clan of street dogs. They are active in the slums, where everything is missing and the virus spreads freely. The underfunded state hospitals are at their limits, promised investments fail. “The pandemic only clarifies what drove people to the streets.”
But the right-wing Conservative government also knows: according to surveys, 82 percent are in favor of the new constitution. “Of course it has to change,” said Diego Schalper of Piñera’s party, “but with targeted reforms, not with a new constitution that wants to start all over again.” The conservatives know that a new constitution can hardly be prevented.
It’s about who works it out. A mixed constitutional convention, half of which would be occupied by the parties, or an elected constituent assembly that would give the traditional elites much less influence. Chancho de Guerra also doesn’t believe that a new constitution will change everything, but it is a first step. But he also says, “If our demands are not taken into account, we will take to the streets again.”