On October 19, 2021, it had been two years since the social outbreak that shocked Chile and surprised the whole world that, at that time, held the trans-Andean nation as “the model”, as it was in the words of President Sebastián Piñera: “An oasis” in the chaotic Latin American desert. In this article we are going to review the causes of the greatest popular revolt in Chile since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, a military process that claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people, including Salvador Allende, and that, since 1973, has made the implementation of neoliberal policies official for the first time in a Latin American country.
It is worth noting that, at present, Chile is going through two political processes of extreme importance for the future of the Chilean government and society: 1) the constituent process, from which a new political constitution will emerge, and 2) the presidential electoral campaign which will determine the new Chilean Head of State and Government for the period 2022-2026. Both processes are affected by the social outbreak of October 19, 2019. We will analyze the presidential campaign in a future United World International article.
The popular revolt of 2019
The 2019 social protests in Chile revealed a face, for many, unknown to the “model country”. The neoliberal assumptions defended by national and international rights regarding the high quality of life of the entire Chilean population, equated with Western development standards (that is, North American and European), the non-existence of social classes or the presence of a single middle class, an envied pension system, a vigorous democracy, the strategic alliance with the United States and even the regional leadership of Sebastián Piñera, reaffirmed with the creation of PROSUR. All this, after October 19, 2019, disappeared and is under deep questioning.
How did it all begin?
The explosion in the Metro, as the epicenter of the protests is known, began on October 6, 2019, when the Panel of Experts of Public Transport of Chile, approved an increase in rates for the capital’s Mobility Network, which affected more than 90% of the Metropolitan Area of Santiago, the capital of the country. Let’s remember that the increase in particular was 30 Chilean pesos (0.040 US dollars; 0.034 euros), thus the ticket that cost 800 pesos became worth 830, in peak hours, and 640 pesos, in hours of low attendance. It would seem a moderate increase, to some it may even seem exaggerated. Fact is that transportation is not the only burden that Chilean families must bear, including those of the middle class.
The first to reject the measure were the students, who began to evade the controls in the Metro. This occurred in the face of the scarce sensitivity of several high government authorities: the Minister of Economy, Juan Andrés Fontaine, declared “those who get up early can be helped,” paraphrasing the well-known ode to work “To those who get up early, God helps them”. For his part, the head of the Treasury, Felipe Larraín, while announcing the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI), advised “romantics to buy flowers” because the price of flowers had been one of the few items that had fallen, according to the IPC. The president of the Panel of Experts himself, Juan Coeymans, commented: “when the bread rises, they do not make any protest […] it is very curious: I believe that in all this there is a political management.”
It was only on October 17, when the massive evasion events began that would lead to a social implosion so far unprecedented in the country. This time the protests increased in strength and included the destruction of turnstiles and infrastructure of the metro system. Faced with these events, the Chilean government responded with another show of force: authorizing the intervention of the Carabineros de Chile, a police force dependent on the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security. Consequently, the first confrontations, repressions and arrests took place. It could be said that this was the moment when the snowball began to roll, and in a matter of hours it would cause a social avalanche.
Indeed, although the students were the first to demonstrate, this well-focused demonstration of social unrest has allowed uncovering a whole Pandora’s box of areas and social issues that, although different, have a common root: the neoliberal model of a State. entrepreneurial, subsidiary, bourgeois, capitalist, racist, patriarchal and eco-cidal as is the current Chilean State. Consequently, due to the increase in public transport passages, mobilizations were added to make other problems visible: the labor and pension system, health, education, as well as claims from the historically excluded Mapuche people and feminist movements, among many others.
Thus, on the now historic October 19, 2019, as the social conflict intensified, President Piñera decreed the “State of Exception”, approved the “curfew” (which had not been applied in the country since 1987) and authorized the Chilean Army to patrol the streets of Santiago. The next day, the first deaths were reported and the head of state uttered the unfortunate but most likely sincere phrase: “We are at war against a powerful enemy.” It should be noted that, despite the fact that the Chilean president decided to suspend the rate hike and tried to take other measures to calm the spirits of an outraged people, there would no longer be a reversal for the social outbreak that, by then, had already taken on national dimensions. and unimaginable internationals.
The fight for a new constitution
Since it was approved in 1980, the current Chilean constitution has undergone 35 reforms, and as the number of adaptations has increased, in parallel, the pressure from society has grown, particularly from the most marginalized sectors, in favor of a resetting of the principles and values of the trans-Andean republic. Notable philosophers, classics and modern, have made us see that this “erase and start again” has never meant “going back to zero” (we also know it from our own life experiences), in such a case, that it has not even been possible to reach a consensus on what the explosion has resulted from. However, in post-dictatorship Chile, the most serious attempt to shuffle the cards again came only in 2015, when the then president Michelle Bachelet announced: a “constituent process open to citizens, through dialogues, debates, consultations and council meetings, which should lead to the New Fundamental Charter, fully democratic and citizen, that we all deserve.”
None of this happened and, only as a result of the social outbreak of October 2019, the political elite of the trans-Andean country was forced to give up power in the face of the representativeness problem that Chile is going through and, which can be summarized in the total crisis due to a change in model. Indeed, this total crisis includes, among many other historical, social, economic, political, cultural and ecological demands, the constituent process to re-found the Chilean State. However, it must be said from now on, although this step is necessary, it is not enough for a radical change in the neoliberal state model. The Chilean historian Gabriel Salazar Vergara (2019), who has cataloged the Chilean social implosion of “citizen revolution”, stated that the ruling political class governs its historical vision for the constitutional time, of defense of the law, which is a time of long stay; on the contrary, the historical consciousness of social groups is governed by the time of the problems that marginalize or oppress them: a short time, of immediacy. This has allowed a new historical social subject to emerge.
Thus, a month after the social outbreak in Chile, parties of the ruling party and some of the opposition, i.e. the part of the political elite that made up the Chilean Congress agreed and approved to hold a plebiscite during the month of April 2020, as part of the Agreement for Social Peace and a New Constitution. This popular consultation was finally approved in October 2020, with more than 78% of the votes in favor, and the Constituent Assembly is currently drafting the new political letter.
What is happening today in Chile?
Two years after the outbreak, the claims that led to the constituent process remain unaddressed: the popular mobilization has not been able to materialize into a leftist or progressive political project. The rejection of corruption, political parties, the repression of the Mapuche People (Nation), the violation of Human Rights by the Carabineros, patriarchy, against gender violence, climate change, the privatization of the education, health, the enormous social inequalities has not been enough to build a strong alternative that can confront the neoliberal and authoritarian Chilean state. In this sense, the Chilean sociologist Roitman Rosenmann maintains that hope in the constituent process “was dissolved as a victim of the evils it was fighting: personalism, corruption, lies, political bad arts.”
For our part, we find the fact that both the constituent process and the Fundamental Charter itself, which is the product of said process, have important limitations; i.e. a new constitution is not, per se, synonymous with social peace. Among the first reasons for this, perhaps the most evident, is that the type of inclusive public policies that respond to social demands are not designed or implemented in the constitution; Rather, it frames the guiding principles and values, which do serve as a reference so that later, civil society and political society can establish the forms of concrete materialization of actions, of social relations, which may change or transform the State, the government and society itself. Therefore, the new constitution should focus, for the consolidation in the future of a democratic system, in a new form of government and in a new type of State, but unfortunately this was not what happened.
On the contrary, the debates and the very writing of the new Chilean Magna Carta are moving steadily to erect the foundations of a new neoliberal State.
In that order of ideas, the Constitutional Convention (CC), the constituent body in charge of drafting a new political constitution for the people of Chile, should had to collect the demands of local, neighborhood, and municipal assemblies, that is, of genuine and popular expression, to reflect it in the charter. But to date, the powers that be have begun to control the Convention, with which the Chilean elite will continue to outline the direction of the new constitution. However, not everything is negative in this process: we have, for example, small but symbolic advances: the CC is chaired by Elisa Loncón, a Mapuche woman, activist for the rights of indigenous peoples, this is unprecedented and historic in a country like Chile, marked by high racism, machismo and rejection of the Mapuches, among other indigenous peoples.
The Constitutional Convention continues its march, the hopes of a real change seem to be losing strength, however, the Chilean people remain firm in their convictions, although the elite does not want to listen to them. Proof of this were the demonstrations on October 18, 2021, thousands of Chilean men and women marched across the country to commemorate the two years of the historic social outbreak, and were once again repressed by the government of President Sebastián Piñera. Finally, what shows that the CC was co-opted by the Chilean elite is that the majority of the political leaders justified the repression and did not side with the people. As we said at the beginning of this article, the constitution process is going through the 2022 presidential campaign, with which we will have to wait until next year, so that we have the final text of the new Magna Carta, to know for sure if the The Chilean people have once again been betrayed, or, in the other hand, what few victories can be obtained from the citizens’ revolution of October 2019.