Oct 302020

There is absolutely nothing I can do about the shoot-out between Trump and Biden, other than to commiserate with US citizens in both camps who have had to watch their American dream go down the drain.

Had I been a US citizen, I would have voted, sure, but as I am not, I do not intend to sit up all night, every night of this last week, waiting for the election results, so please have me excused. Nor do I intend to incur headaches, hypertension, muscular pains, insomnia, or psychosis by following the news byte by byte. It is nearly all about Trump and Covid, even in my country. You could almost envy the people in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, who have issues that take their mind off Covid-Trump.

However, there are actually enjoyable pieces of news out there, would you believe it? True, my country’s national broadcasting company did not see fit to inform us about the outcome of the 25 October plebiscite in Chile, but we still have internet. (By the way, did you know that in Kashmir they don’t, thanks to “Democratic” India’s rabid PM Narendra Modi’s having slapped a one-year-long internet blackout on Kashmir.) So I watched a Chilean TV channel for – yes, for a whole night.

General Pinochet, whose US-assisted dictatorship had engaged in a particularly sadistic effort to exterminate the regime’s political opponents, stepped down in 1990 following a plebiscite he had allowed, believing that it would grant his dictatorship legitimacy. To everybody’s surprise, it didn’t. See the film No! directed by Pablo Larrain (trailer).

However, Chile was not rid of Pinochet. He left his mark in a Constitution (adopted back in 1980, when people were too terrified to oppose it), a constitution that seemed a hymn to Milton Friedman’s market fundamentalism.

Subsequent legislative efforts to protect the population from the effects of that constitution have been a seemingly hopeless uphill battle.

Milton Friedman often proudly referred to “the miracle of Chile”. Moreover, the father of Neoliberalism (albeit Neoliberal economists indignantly declare there is no such thing as Neoliberalism) Friedrich Hayek, visited Pinochet. If you are an economist, and if you still adhere to the “classical” economic precepts of Hayek, I suggest you take a look at Wikiquotes and search “Chile”.

Chile’s economy has been a model of stability, the darling of the IMF, with steady and uninterrupted growth in terms of GNP. But let me declare loudly, let me stand on a chair, let me shout, let me scream, as the Chilean protesters have been screaming: GNP does not reflect the welfare of the vast majority of a country’s inhabitants.

True, the number of people defined as living in extreme poverty has declined markedly from year to year. However, how do you define poverty? I put to you, that the majority of Chile’s population is living in what I consider poverty. I am sure you would agree if you were put to the test.

I quote from the think tank www.americas.org:

Fifty percent of the economically active population earns less than 550 dollars per month, with the minimum wage equivalent to 414 dollars. Overwhelmed by the narrow strip that separates it from poverty, an important part of the population lives in fear of seeing their income fall. In Chile, downward social mobility is greater than upward social mobility, and downward mobility is more highly correlated to political protest than poverty itself.

The biggest factor that exacerbates inequality is probably the nation’s pension system, in force since 1982. Designed during the military government, the pension mechanism has not met Chileans’ expectations. According to the group No + AFP (No More Pension Fund Managers), which in 2016 organized a march of 600,000 people, these are “undercover banks of the richest entrepreneurs in our country who use the pension funds to expand their investments and further concentrate capital in a few hands”. The average pension for retirees is $286 per month, and 80% receive pensions below the minimum wage. The amount of pensions is on average close to 40% of people’s income at the time of retirement.

Education is the second major source of inequality. In 2006 and 2011, students organized massive demonstrations calling for profound reforms in the education system. Chilean education is characterized by the huge gap between public and private education. The withdrawal of the State from its functions as generator, regulator and supervisor of the education sector led to the gap as part of neoliberal reforms beginning in the 1980s.

The above quote is far too polite, in my mind. (The NY Times does a better job of it.) Then again, I suspect that working and living conditions for more than half the population in the USA is not very much better than for the majority of the population in Chile.

Now back to the night when the votes were being counted. The below link will take you to the infamous Stadium in Santiago during the last minutes before voting ends. Then you will see how counting starts at various polling stations, how amazed silence follows the first signs of what seems to be happening,

If you go on watching, you will see that dazed spectators surrounding the polling stations (las mesas) start to understand that they may actually have won. Eventually, they will find themselves in the streets, deliriously celebrating, and although there is a curfew, neither the police nor the army intervenes.

What emerges when all the votes have been counted is that only 5 of the 346 electoral districts were opposed to the trashing of Pinochet’s constitution. Two of them are so small they are statistically insignificant. Three of them, however, constitute the part of Santiago that houses the top of the social pyramid, the epicentre of political and economic power: Vitacura, las Condes and Lo Barnochea. In an interesting article, BBC explains that Santiago consists of two distinct universes. What is clear is that from the top of a pyramid, you don’t see the ants swarming down below.

President Piñera deserves praise for at least not having declared a civil war on the night when it became clear that 78.2 % of the population of Chile, had declared the country’s constitution worthless.

Look to Chile, my friends. Change is indeed possible.

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