"Chile despertó!" - Chile has woken up

It’s Friday in Santiago de Chile. And like every Friday since October 18, 2019, thousands of people flock to Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the protests in Chile and now renamed Plaza Dignidad, the place of dignity. From afar, a swath of tear gas chase the water into the eyes. But undeterred, thousands of people wander from all directions to the central place of discontent. Destroyed bus stations, full spray paint and painted walls, barricaded shop windows testify to the weeks of protests that put Chile into an uneasy state of emergency.

Growing gap between rich and poor

“Estallido social”, social outburst, is called the totality of the protest movement. The trigger was a price increase of the Metro Tickets by 30 Pesos, about 4 centimes. Students and students responded with blockades of the Metro stations, which the state tried to suppress with harsh police repression. But the price increase was only the famous drop that caused the barrel to overflow. Meanwhile, the general resentment towards one of the most neoliberal systems in Latin America is unleashed in the demonstrations.

Progress and a consumer-oriented lifestyle of a part of the population disguise the growing gap between rich and poor. More and more Chileans are slipping into poverty. Many do not know how to make ends meet for the next month. At the same time, the population system does not allow participation in political decisions. Reports of cases of corruption and collusion in politics and among large corporations also fuel anger against the political class and the business elite.

In addition, the reckless treatment of nature increasingly concerns the Chilean people. According to Lorena Donaire, Director of the environmental organization Modatima, is the concern about an increasingly fragile nascent Ecosystem, and the associated criticism of the exploitation of natural resources is a prominent Element of the riots. The privatization of land and water has turned Chile’s agriculture into an export-oriented Business that is displacing traditional peasant life. Dams and huge plantations shape the landscape in many places.

Francisca Fernández, anthropologist and member of the Coordinadora Feminista 8 de Marzo, explains: “socio-ecological movements, indigenous peoples like the Mapuche, student movements and feminist groups have been presenting alternatives to the neoliberal System for years.“Thus, the protests in Chile do not have a unified message, they are rather an expression of deep dissatisfaction with the neoliberal social system.

Bloody Riots

The massive violence used by the police and military against demonstrators evoked memories of Pinochet’s military dictatorship. In particular, the short-term mobilization of the army in support of the police and the proclamation of a curfew on October 18 testify to the will to silence the protesting mass by all means. National and international organizations accused the security forces of numerous serious human rights violations, which a UN report has documented and also sharply criticized.

A watery eye is one of the main symbols of the protests. It is intended to commemorate the more than 400 people who were injured in the eye by rubber bullets fired by the police during the demonstrations. More than 20,000 arrests, more than 10,000 injured, torture allegations, sexual assaults and now 29 deaths are the sad record of Repression.

Clouds of tear gas flow through the street.

The protesters are now well armed, as is shown on another Friday, when the state authorities with more than 1000 police officers want to prevent the protests. Most demonstrators are covered or equipped with protective masks and glasses. Homemade signs protect against rubber bullets and water cannons. Medical teams take care of the injured. Well-equipped protesters relieve the burning appeal of tear gas bombs in water tanks, while others break stones from the pavement to deliver projectiles against the police wall. Everywhere barricades burn and countless beams of laser pointers ignite directly on the front windows of the water cannons. Batucadas, wandering percussion groups, and lentil soup strengthen the morale of the protesters.

The Repression of the security forces is felt above all by the “Primera Línea”, the first line, as the demonstrators prepared for confrontation are called. They respond to violence and are attacked accordingly by the conventional media and politics. Within the protest movement, however, Primera Línea enjoys great recognition, as it makes the demonstrations possible at all.

“Primera Línea plays a fundamental role in the protests,” says feminist Francisca Fernández. It legitimizes violence as sometimes the only possible form of resistance and at the same time makes it possible for many others to take their Protest to the streets. Direct action, which until now has been severely criminalized, could thus be legitimized as a form of political action.

Various forms of protest

The demonstrations are only one face of the protest movement. One of the main achievements of the protests are the “Asambleas Territoriales”, the local assemblies. Away from the public, people meet in the neighborhoods and begin to organize themselves. “Since the protests, I’ve known almost all the neighbors,” says a resident of a suburb of Santiago. At neighborhood festivals and gatherings, solidarity is called and self-governing organization among the residents of the neighborhood. Music groups in solidarity play, and the organizers distribute food. Already existing “Asambleas” or organizations received strong updraft.

The message emanating from these initiatives sounds simple: self-government. Take everyday life back into your own hands. For example, in the island city of Ancud, in southern Chile, where the Public House of culture was quickly occupied and transformed into a meeting place for the entire population. Since then, Workshops, events and meetings have been held there every day. The thirst for direct social organization is almost palpable and usually emanates as an impulse of the young generations.

A peaceful form of protest: a music group is playing

The occupations of various universities and schools are of a more combative nature. Not only in the coastal town of Valparaiso, where the protests are particularly violent, the entrances to the examination halls are blocked on the day of the entrance examinations for the universities. Throughout the country, protesting students are sabotaging what they see as unjust exams – a form of criticism of the entire education system.

The attack on banks and supermarkets, which have been destroyed or looted in various cities, reflects the anti-capitalist approach of the protests, leaving entire shopping streets with barricaded shop windows. Even in the smallest cities, the entrances to the banks are now protected with steel walls. In Santiago, skyscrapers owned by major corporations were set on fire. Countless sayings and calls for civil disobedience adorn the walls of most of the larger inner cities.

What gets stuck?

All these different forms of protest have to contend with state Repression. From the threat of eviction of the Cultural Center in Ancud, the corrosive substances used in the water cannons in Santiago, to the new laws that impose absurdly heavy penalties on the protesters, the state authorities are trying to silence the protests by all means.

However, the social changes heralded by the protests cannot be overlooked. The local “Asambleas”, the direct actions, the pursuit of self-government, the rejection of any party-political representation: These are all initiatives based on anarchist principles, although only a certain part of the protesters identify themselves as anarchists. However, they all testify to the will of the population to take their destinies and everyday life back into their own hands.

Clothes hang out to dry in the destroyed metro station.

Walking through downtown Santiago the morning after a Demonstration resembles an apocalyptic Vision. Destroyed Bus and metro stations, burnt houses, Asphalt set on fire, stones and glass shards everywhere, traffic lights torn down. At the same time, however, the scenario opens up space for new possibilities. Beneficial features stand out: not a single billboard, colour-painted walls, more freedom for pedestrians. People are beginning to perceive themselves again and solidarity seems to become a tangible principle, not only in the demonstrations, but also in the neighborhoods between the neighbors. And one thing cannot be overlooked: the exclamation visible on many walls and audible from many mouths: Chile despertó! Chile has woken up!