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THE 1970s in Latin America were dyed in blood. As a consequence of US interventionism through Washington’s Condor operation, the military established a series of dictatorships in the subcontinent. Chile fell prey to this process and thus, on September 11 1973, the first democratically elected socialist government in the world ended.
Salvador Allende’s presidential palace was bombed by the air force and the combined forces of the army and police put Augusto Pinochet in charge, beginning 17 bloody years of military dictatorship.
This dictatorship, unlike the others in Latin America, followed the recommendations of the Chicago Boys — Chilean economists who had studied in the US under Milton Friedman — and implanted a neoliberal model in the country whose normative base was embodied in an imposed political constitution written inside the four walls of the palace, without parliament and in the absence of political parties or citizen participation.
This constitution transformed the role of the state into a merely subsidiary one and transferred its obligations to the private sector. At the same time, the incipient state companies were auctioned off at absurdly low values in favour of an economic elite that supported the Pinochet dictatorship — although of course a series of state-funded privileges for the military and police were protected.
The ultra-orthodox version neoliberalism implanted in Chile constitutes much more than an economic model. It implies a model of society whose main bond of cohesion is competition, promoting individualisation at the expense of collective or community projects.
During the Pinochet dictatorship, thousands of citizens were tortured, “disappeared” and murdered due their politics, while an omnipotent military and police institution was structured and accustomed to act outside a regulatory framework — totally removed from any human rights conventions. The Carabineros de Chile became a militarised police force, imbued with a “purifying” role against society, its purpose to use physical and psychological harm as punishment.
In the 1990s the country went through a “return to democracy” that was really nothing more than a pact between some political sectors and Pinochet, validated by a rubber-stamp plebiscite. The dictator even sat in parliament as “senator for life” — the constitution did not change, neither were the armed “forces of order” deprived of their benefits.
They were not restructured into new institutions based on respect for human rights, and there was no justice for detainees or those tortured and murdered.
As to the economic and social policies of the dictatorship era? Education, health, pensions, housing: everything is still run by private agents and depends on a market full of collusion and corruption, where people die without medical attention.
Young people today are still without resources — they do not have opportunities to study and the elderly do not receive more than €300 (£280) a month in their retirement from their pensions.
This legacy exploded on October 18 2019 as a result of new “public” (that is actually private) transportation fees. The population began a social revolt that broke with neoliberalism.
Post-dictatorship, Chile’s political system, which allowed the existence of authoritarian enclaves inherited from Pinochet, entered into a deep crisis because the call to transform the situation by the masses was dismissed and undermined; reforms avoided upsetting existing elite economic groups and personal interests, generating a yawning chasm between the political system and ordinary people.
It is in this context — assuming all the repressive burden inherited by the ruling Chilean elite, with the co-operation of military and police — that the responses of the government of the multimillionaire Sebastian Pinera, who made his fortune by the profits of the state companies auctioned by the dictatorship, have been nothing but repression of the legitimate social protest for dignity.
That repression has led to serious and systematic rights violations documented in reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
This year in Chile, state agents have once again tortured, raped, mutilated and murdered, while the government continues to support them institutionally. The National Institute of Human Rights has documented 3,765 people injured; 445 eye mutilations; 2,122 wounded by gunshots; 1,835 human-rights violations reported (sexual violence, torture and cruel treatment); and 36 deaths.
The violence carried out by the carabineros and the Pinera government is based on the logic that was implanted during the military dictatorship and has never changed, which today has left many young people of my age without their eyes, raped or murdered.
We have woken up, we have opened our eyes, asking for dignity — and they have found nothing better than to put out our eyes. The citizens of Chile, more than ever, need international support.
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