Dec 212021
 

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.

Was it?

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.

Mar 292018
 

After two world wars, Europeans had had enough of wars, and so we saw the slow but inexorable development of the EC, which has evolved into the EU.

Now, it is true that many considered this multinational organisation a bureaucratic and undemocratic mastodon, and for many years the Scandinavian countries, for instance, refused to join, with good reason, you might say. There are certainly grounds for maintaining that joining the EU weakens national sovereignty, and there is undoubtedly the matter of the “democratic deficit”.

On the other hand, where is there no “democratic deficit”? Personally, I’m not really sure what “democracy” means, in spite of all we can read about the topic in various sources. Forget about the ancient Greeks, for a moment, though the concept is said to stem from them; in Athens only a small proportion of males, i.e. landowners, were “eligible” to vote, as it were. So Athens doesn’t really count as a model.

In modern-day western societies, we see more or less fascist movements gaining ground through fair elections. We also see elections that are not blatantly unfair but dubious. I won’t detail what I mean by dubious – each country has its own turgid electoral issues with or without the involvement of the Russians, fake-news factories, abused Facebook data etc. Be all that as it may, we are left with a lot of question marks regarding even so called “fair elections”.

Regardless of our doubts, however, most of us in the west still agree that we value certain standards of law. We need to trust that our courts and law enforcement are politically, financially and personally impartial and just. Most of us also firmly adhere to the importance of civil liberties.

So where does that leave us?

I knew a man who used to say, “nowhere in the Bible have I found any statement to the effect that parents must love their children”. I believe him. He had actually read the Bible many times. The Bible only commands us to love and obey our parents, and that’s it.

I find a parallel in our faith in “democracy”: We believe in it as though it were the Bible, but nobody requires us to vote for what is best for the country, for society or for humankind. All a voter needs to do is to vote for whoever will best serve his or her personal interests. Now.

Right. And now we have a situation of impeding serious climate change. Left to choose between a policy that will impose inter alia serious restrictions on personal travel and make a dent on our personal finances, or, on the other hand, business as usual, what do you and I choose?

And we have a situation in which parts of the world population are destitute, desperate and/or even angry. Do we choose to leave them to their own devices, put them into concentration camps, or even exterminate them? Or do we consider a different order?

Finally, we have a situation in most western countries where a growing proportion are growing poorer by the year, where the welfare state is crumbling and where young women are increasingly reluctant to bear children for fear of what the future may bring. It is very tempting to blame “the others”, i.e. China, Russia, the immigrants, and all the oddballs that make a society colourful. Are there any other sources of concern?

The EU may be a bureaucratic mastodon, but from my perspective, the EU is a relatively civilising force in Europe at the moment. Not that I trust the EU. The EU was from its inception, and still is, a fundamentally capitalist animal. But so far, no successful alternative to capitalism has been devised. (Russia and China are, after all, as capitalist as the rest of us.) The EU aims, at least, to resist individual countries’ and companies’ attempts to undermine the rule of law, and to defend civil liberties. The EU even defends, to a certain extent, its members’ welfare state. And the EU realises, unlike most of us, that in the end, we will all be the losers of climate change.

There is no punch line here, except that if you are itching for a new war, you may not be disappointed. I only hope that the majority of Europeans take to their senses. Soon.

 

Mar 182017
 

Several European countries are facing national elections, these days. Lately, I have taken to watching the evening news on television, rather than just reading RSS feeds or listening to podcasts, because so many of my lunchtime companions talk about Trump’s and Gert Wilders’ hairdos that I feel a need to be visually informed.

But alas, information comes at a price. Watching the evening news means you can’t skip paragraphs or fast-forward. You have to listen to a lot of – excuse my French – crap, and crap makes me feel slightly ill. Now, I realise I seem to be echoing Mr Trump as far as distrust of the media is concerned, and for that I prostrate myself in abject apology, but there is no denying that the media has no choice but to record what dominant actors say and do, not least what Mr Trump says and twitters, which is quite a mouthful.

Tonight an opposition party in my country trumpeted: “We intend to redistribute wealth!” Why are they saying that? Because they hope to attract low-income voters. Will they succeed? I doubt it. Why? Because people know that what is meant is really “we will raise taxes”, and although they only want to raise taxes on the filthy rich, we all know that when taxes go up, the bottom two thirds of the population pay more, but when taxes go down, the top third of the population pays less. Why this is so? Beats me!

But taxes do have to be be raised. Why? Because the wealth gap between the top 10 percent and the rest of the country is growing exponentially, here as elsewhere in the western world. As you will know if you have read your Piketty, this is not only because the right-wing parties currently in power here have lowered taxes on wealth and capital, though tax reductions in recent years have been considerable and have gone almost unnoticed. (Everybody got a tiny tax reduction, whereas the top of the pyramid got an enormous tax reduction. Since we don’t want to loose our “tiny” tax reduction, we don’t talk about it.)

While making serious adjustments to cater to the companies and billionaires that regularly contribute outrageously large sums of money to its two main parties, the right-wing government has to attract low-income voters to stay in power. It therefore spends an awful lot of money on trifles that will win votes, oblivious to the unpalatable fact that what goes out has to come in.

Meanwhile, the number of poor people in this country has grown considerably in recent years – and the poor are growing poorer – and a growing number of frustrated and angry young poor are lured by whispered rumours of “great leaders” – charismatic right-wing and/or religious misfits with personality disorders.

The poor are the elephant in the room. Here, there and everywhere.

Elections should be regarded as entertainment, no more, no less, the verbal equivalent of a football match. Contenders hand out chocolates on street corners, appear on talk shows, dress to the nines and repeat their carefully chosen mantras until we all turn into sleep walkers.

If you want to win an election, you have to tell people what they want to hear. You certainly don’t tell them that we have to raise taxes. You don’t tell them that unless we do something about it, the wealth gap will continue to widen. You don’t tell them that unless we do something about it, there will be more terrorism. You don’t tell them that unless we do something about it, most of the planet will sooner or later be uninhabitable.

You don’t serve them the unpalatable truths. You serve canapés and a glass of something or other, smile your red-lipped, full-bodied smile and tell them assuaging non-truths. You tell them that we shall lower taxes, thus increasing employment and wealth for all. (Teresa May is one the real pros!) You tell them that terrorists, far from being poor are just simple killers, and will be dealt with accordingly, swiftly and effectively. You tell them that poverty, climate change and other nasty things have nothing to do with us, that the poor must look after themselves and that the climate must look after itself. In short: Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles. That is what you tell them.

Enjoy the elections!