CHILE: POLITICAL CRISIS & THE RESISTANCE
I SPOKE to my brother last week and saw one of my sisters over the weekend. We’re all worried about Chile, about our family there and about the country that is half our home. Because it all feels ominous. That feeling spreading across North America and here in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, China, the globe…it’s of impending doom, the descent of a darker time. And history repeating itself.
The situation in Chile right now is dangerous. The right-wing president, Sebastían Piñera, was too keen to respond to peaceful protest and civil disobedience by the public about the soaring cost of living with martial laws dating back from the Pinochet regime – which was a military junta and dictatorship aided by the US that crushed the (democratically-elected) socialist govt of Salvador Allende, and democracy along with it. How can his actions, and the number of Pinochet supporters in his (former – after his too-little-too-late attempt to reshuffle his cabinet to diffuse the situation) govt, be seen as anything other than a direct challenge to democracy again, and a bid for absolute and totalitarian power? With another fascist in power in near-neighbour Brazil (Bolsonaro), and one up in the US, does Piñera feel the time is ripe to seize control? At least 17 people are dead. People are being beaten and shot at with marble bullets. At what point do the real guns come out?
The thing with Chile is, not many people – even within the country – are prepared to admit the horrors of its recent past. Chile only returned to democracy in 1990, after nearly 20 years under the fascist dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. (The same Pinochet who Margaret Thatcher made sure had a cushty time under so-called “house arrest” over here.) It’s hard for people who did not suffer to admit that a regime that they may have benefitted from was built on murder, abduction, oppression and war crimes. But you know what? It’s far harder for those who were abducted, tortured and oppressed, and their families, to be confronted with the collective forgetting of something that they live the consequences of every day. This is a lesson that we should have learned many times over by now.
the first slide is from El Desconcierto's instagram, the following 2 are from Prensa Opal Chile's page - both these pages were sent to me by my cousin (actually my cousin's daughter but Latinx familial ties aren't rlly about the detail init). Please follow even if you don't speak Spanish - the pictures speak for themselves and keep you in the loop about the situation & the resistance.
Think of the people who have lived through a military regime – with a curfew, soldiers on the streets and the violent suppression of free speech – and survived. Think of how it must feel to see it all again. My uncle lived through that with my dad and their other brother. One of his daughters was born in exile in Scotland. Families were torn apart, people never reunited, questions never answered. My dad was a refugee who never returned to Chile because of having a family here. I find all this hard to write about because my dad is not here anymore and I don’t know if maybe that’s better because I don’t know if he could live through it all again. Only one of his brothers survives. My uncle and my extended family in Chile are my link to the man who was my world, and his country that is my world too. There is so much guilt that trickles down through the victims of brutal regimes, associated with the choice of one's own survival in exile over their life and family at home. I know my dad felt guilty that he never returned to Chile and to his family there. I feel guilt that I am part of the reason for that. I feel guilt because right now my family are facing a govt that will not protect them and is prepared to harm them and I’m here. I think these are, at least in part, familiar feelings to any child of immigration/exile. How do we reconcile the life we have to the one we could have had?
So, as my cousin Sofia is out defiantly protesting and putting her life in harm’s way for free speech, just as my dad and her granddad did over 40 years ago, I’m here in my living room writing about it. All I can think of to do to help is to tell you that people in Chile have always resisted. Sofia is a student in the central city of Concepción, and the student movement of Chile has always been highly politicised and activist. All I can do is tell you what Sofia told me – that she is back in our family home of Chiloé for the time being, peacefully protesting. That Concepción and the mainland is dangerous. Chile's govt is waging war against its own people. Sofia sent me the links to the Insta pages from which I got the images for this article. All I can do is share them with you and ask you to stand in solidarity with her. Demand British news outlets cover this story more, place pressure on your MPs to ask our govt what sort of measures it’s willing to take to prevent an international crisis. And take a leaf out of the Chilean protest movements’ book – stand together in defiance.
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido
(The people united will never be defeated)
con muchas gracias a mi prima, Sofia Chavez Montiel – con cariño y poder, siempre.