The Social Democrat Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile in 1970, and again in 1973. His re-election in 1973, in spite of the United States’ destabilization activities (which effectively paralysed Chile) was the last straw for the U.S. and the Chilean upper class. The role played by the United States in the bloody 9/11 coup and the dismantling of Chilean Social Democracy is well documented not least by declassified documents from the US National Security Archive.
The blood-curdling bestiality of the subsequent dictatorship has also been painstakingly researched, not least by some of the victims’ next of kin (e.g. the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet). Incidentally, allow me to recommend the six episodes of the Netflix documentary, “Colonia Dignidad” established shortly after WWII and later used as one of the dictatorship’s myriad torture and detention centres.
The next opportunity for Chilean voters to make their wishes known came on 5 October 1988. To prove to his Western friends, not least Margaret Thatcher, how much his people loved him, and thus to justify continued dictatorship, Pinochet had allowed the “YES or NO plebiscite”. It didn’t occur to him that people would vote NO (i.e. NO more Pinochet!)
Again I recommend a film, “NO”, by Pablo Larrain. The fictional protagonists playfully use the enemy’s Neoliberal marketing tricks to win voters.
Equally important, I think, is another lesson learnt: David can beat Goliath. Pinochet held absolute power over all media, which trumpeted, day in and day out, Chile’s impressive GNP, its wealth and strength. All known leftist activists were either dead, abroad or in jail. Pinochet was handsome, elegantly courteous to the ladies, a “real man” for the men and devout (i.e. “a good man”). He was indeed beloved by many. His detractors were portrayed as dangerous communists, determined to strip you of all your property.
Still, Pinochet’s opponents won!
His “Chicago boys” had been hand-picked by Milton Friedman to reform the economy of the country, which became a testing ground for market fundamentalism, commonly referred to as “Neoliberalism”. After Pinochet stepped down, market fundamentalism was still enshrined in “his” Constitution, which was promulgated in 1980. For decades now, the world has considered Chile an economic miracle.
The day 18 October 2019 saw the start of the “Estallido” (explosion). Just a few days earlier, President Piñera had boasted that Chile is the “oasis of Latin America”, failing to mention who owned the “oasis”. “Not us, to be sure,” said most people. “To be eligible for retirement benefits, we have to pay private pension funds that only repay a fraction of what we paid. We have to pay for private health insurance and for the education of our children. We are hopelessly indebted; we work from dawn till midnight; we hardly even know our children!”
When “our children” were castigated for refusing to pay the Metro fare to get to school because of a small price hike, parents stood by them. What started as a juvenile prank (the kids simply jumped over turnstiles) ended up as a major riot with tanks and a president who declared the country at war.
“War?” spat the infuriated hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets. “You are going to war against your own people?” Indeed, President Piñera was castigated by his own allies when Chile made international headlines due to the authorities’ brutality against peaceful demonstrators.
The uprising lasted for weeks and only ended after President Piñera had promised a new plebiscite. On October 25 the people of Chile were allowed to answer two questions: 1) Should the existing constitution be replaced? 2) In the event, should a new constitution be drafted by a democratically elected constitutional committee?
The voters responded with a resounding “YES” to both questions.
Alas, the subsequent backlash included the usual lies about what would become of Chile in the hands of idealistic fools manipulated by Russia, Cuba and China. I shall refrain from giving you the full text with which, I’m sure, you are already familiar. You know as well as I do that the Neoliberal set adroitly tailor the “information” they provide to fit their customers’ educational level, religion and culture. Above all, they make sure to filter “information” and spice it with titbits of fiction. “Truth” is not in the Neoliberal dictionary.
Many Chileans will literally have wept when a Fascist won the first round of this year’s presidential election. Referring to politicians you dislike as “fascists” is not comme il faut, but Jose Antonio Kast really is just that, a Fascist. A soft-spoken, handsome religious conservative like his hero Pinochet, he has the political outlook of an iron fist. Just as in Brazil, voters had tired of moderate conservatives and the only right wing person who could rally support was one who promised the moon. Electoral participation in the first round was, however, no more than 47%.
Voter turnout in the second round, on 19 December 2021, was 56%, even though most buses mysteriously stopped running that day, and people had to stand in line for hours in the scorching heat. Moreover, many Chileans living abroad were also prevented from voting when they discovered that Pinochet’s constitution requires them to register with their embassies almost half a year in advance of elections.
Chile is a deeply polarised country. That’s what dictatorships do to countries: They cleave them, and the wounds last for generations. Take Spain, for instance. Franco died in 1975, but the country has not healed, it is merely hushed. Silence is not always golden.
But in Chile, a young and fresh generation has taken charge, a generation that appears determined to dismantle Neoliberalism. To quote President-elect Gabriel Boric: “if Chile was the birthplace of Neoliberalism, Chile will also be its grave.”
Let us hope.