Somos el Rio, Recuperando su Cauce: We are the River, Recovering its Course

Trying to take a bus out of Valparaíso today felt like being in a movie about living under a state of siege. The army had set up barricades blocking off main streets and surrounded the bus station (only the back entrance was open). The stench of tear gas hung in the air, and armored vehicles with water cannons were positioned around the corner. 

The national uprising continues, and the state is clearly shaken. On Oct. 30, Piñera announced the cancellation of the COP25 U.N. climate change conference and the Asian Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) meetings that were supposed to take place in Chile in the next weeks. This is surely a blow to Chile’s international standing and a clear sign of the weakening of the regime. All of the Piñera government’s measures to regain legitimacy have not worked (shuffling his cabinet, apologizing, proclaiming “we hear you,” proposing new social benefits which nonetheless continue the same neoliberal privatization and market logics that drive Chile). As has now become a popular slogan–It’s not about 30 pesos (the increase in metro fares that sparked a protest led by middle and high school students [see earlier blog] which quickly exploded into a national uprising)—it’s about 30 years of social crisis under a punishing neoliberal regime. People want to change the whole system. 

Putting the military on the streets for the first time since the dictatorship, except for natural disasters, is a violent reminder of the dictatorship and has inflamed popular anger. As Pablo Abufom, a member of the Chilean feminist and anti-neoliberal capitalism groups Solidarity Movement and No Más AFP (no more privatized pension system), explained on Democracy Now! on October 29, “you have an open wound in the Chilean society when you have the military on the street. And that’s another thing that we have to take into account when understanding this crisis, is that that trauma of Chilean society of having the military on the street is open again with this repression and human rights violation.”

But what process will consolidate this mass popular uprising into a fundamental social transformation? How will Chileans convert this outpouring of anger at a multitude of injustices and deprivations into a program of reforms that undermine neoliberal capitalism and its intertwined racist and heteropatriarchal structures and create more democratic space for people to organize to fundamentally transform this system? This has been the challenge of mass uprisings across the world in the 21st century, and it seems to us that the Chilean people face this today. Marta Harnecker put it succinctly:  

In recent years, and in increasingly more countries, growing multitudes have rebelled against the existing order and, without a defined leadership, have taken over plazas, streets, highways, towns, and parliaments. But, despite having mobilized hundreds of thousands of people, neither the magnitude of their size nor their combativeness have enabled these multitudes to go beyond simple popular revolts. They have brought down presidents, but they have not been capable of conquering power in order to begin a process of deep social transformation. (A World to Win, p.166)

In Chile, mass movements and left political parties are calling for a Constituent Assembly and a new Constitution as a first step—and of course, get the military off the streets.  

A House Window in Valparaíso

As we’ve discussed earlier, the 1980 constitution created under Pinochet is still in effect. The dictatorship destroyed Chile’s institutions and legal system and the constitution was Pinochet’s method of creating the legal basis and institutional structures to ensure that privatization of almost everything and the coercive power of the state would endure once the dictatorship was formally finished. The State of Emergency in effect now is legalized through that constitution. 

The State of Emergency: Restricting Freedom of Movement and Meeting

Cabildos are one grassroots process people are engaging in to build toward a constituent assembly and a new constitution.  Wednesday, we attended the first of three cabildos on education in Valparaíso. Cabildos, public gatherings for serious discussions, have a history in Chile and a long history in Spain. They are being activated by social movements as popular assemblies to discuss the social policies and social transformations Chileans want. In Valparaíso, the left-wing mayor, Jorge Sharp (see earlier blog) is helping to advance the cabildos across the city. The idea, as we understand it, is to consolidate proposals from the cabildos in a bottom-up process of developing new social policies for a new Chile. We are hoping to learn more about this process and the theory underpinning it, and attending the education cabildo was our introduction.  

Education Cabildo in Parque Cultural, Valparaíso, 10-29-19

The cabildo was in Parque Cultural, in Cerro Carcel—a serene park and cultural space that community members transformed from a former prison into a space of natural beauty and community cultural activities (see earlier blog). Although called on two days notice, it drew 125 people, mostly teachers and some students. After a general political framing by an educational leader of CORMUVAL (Valparaíso municipal office), and introductions by all of the participants seated in a huge circle, we counted off into groups of 10 to address the question: What is the origin of the conflict in education?  After an hour of noisy, animated, small group discussions, each group posted their responses on the wall on big posters, several of which are below. 

Our group talked passionately about many specific issues that would be familiar to teachers in Chicago who just finished an 11-day strike for their students’ education: Education is rigid and compartmentalized and geared to the national high stakes test (the SIMCEsee earlier blog); it stifles critical consciousness; teachers have no flexibility and cannot survive on their salaries; class and race discrimination; privatization has undermined public education and undermined schools rooted in communities; schools lack resources; and more. But it was striking that when the groups presented their analysis, one after another, their synthesis of the fundamental root of these issues was “neoliberalismo” and all its impacts on curriculum and pedagogy and on “subjectivities”—the ways that neoliberal ideology and practices rupture social solidarity, promote competitiveness, and invade consciousness and how that impacts Chilean society as a whole. 

At the same time, mass demonstrations and creative protests of all kinds continue to put pressure on the state. Before the cabildo began, cultural workers in the Parque were painting a banner for a general strike called for the next day. 

The State of Emergency is still in effect with thousands of carabineros and army units on the street, and casualties, arrests, and human rights abuses continuing to mount. It was reported the other night that a human rights observer was wounded by the rubber and metal pellets the army is shooting at people, particularly in the eyes. So the crisis continues, and people continue to organize and demand a process to create a new Chile. As far as we understand, cabildos and other forms of popular assemblies are expanding across Chile. And there is a flourishing of community gatherings and cultural events as Chileans come together to build solidarity, talk to each other, celebrate, and care for each other. We transform ourselves and our relationships with each other in the course of struggling together to transform our reality. We believe that is happening today in Valparaíso. As an indication, here is the latest posting from difusión—playaancha, of events around Valparaíso, as well as announcement of an asamblea vecino (neighborhood assembly/cabildo) happening on our block today.

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