Photograph: Pixabay.com. Edited by Opulens.
MILITARISM. The Chilean government raised the subway ticket price by 30 pesos. On Thursday morning, October 17, small groups of students evaded paying for their tickets, skipping the controls in some subway stations. I took the Santiago subway. There was a tense but calm atmosphere. The calm before the storm. Closed doors. Guards and police were intimidating the students all over.
On the morning of Friday, October 18, I travelled to Pichilemu, a charming seaside resort on the Pacific coast 250 kilometres from Santiago, to participate in a Book Fair. The day was sunny in Pichilemu. Social networks informed that people were continuing to protest in Santiago. People did not accept government intimidation. Chaos broke out. The situation worsened, and violence took to the streets of the Chilean capital, with burning of various metro and bus stations, looting of supermarkets and attacks on public buildings.
A photo increased the discontent. The photo was of President Piñera eating pizza at a restaurant in Vitacura, to celebrate the birthday of one of his grandchildren. His grandfather role was more important than his role as president. A single photo increased people’s anger. The next day, on Saturday the 19th, President Piñera rescinded the price increase on subway tickets. Too late. The protests did not stop. Piñera declared a state of emergency. He limited some civil rights. He imposed a curfew and deployed the military to the streets.
In the airport, flights were stopped, and hundreds of passengers were stranded. That Saturday, I saw Pichilemu neighbours quickly, organized a protest march. At 7 pm, a huge number of people gathered in a square. They started marching by banging on pans. I joined the march with other writers. Thousands hitting pans. ”Piñera, listen, go to hell!” The march stopped in front of the cultural centre, at the place where the book fair was held. The same sort of energy and atmosphere made the rounds of almost every city in Chile. People rebelled spontaneously.
While we were having dinner, we heard and saw on social networks that the people of Santiago challenged the curfew there. Result – eleven dead individuals. The Government indicated that 716 people were being detained, 241 of them for not respecting the decree that prohibited nighttime traffic. Sunday was also sunny in the coastal town of Pichilemu. We ate breakfast sitting by the pleasant sunny sea, with other artists and writers. We commented on what was happening in Chile.
The demonstrations continued in different places in Chile, and the government’s misconduct was absolute. Piñera did not appear, and rumours of all kinds were in the air. We returned to Santiago. We had to arrive early as the government had moved up the curfew in Santiago to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. The trip was quiet with little traffic. We heard on the radio about more protests in Santiago.
We went to eat some tasty shrimp empanadas with cheese in the town of Pomaire. A town known for its handicrafts. Normally the town of Pomaire is full of tourists. Now we were alone in the restaurant. Already in Santiago, on Sunday night, I could see President Piñera appearing on TV. Emaciated. He said a phrase that made the situation worse again. ”We are at war”.
Piñera was reckless. I was struck by Piñera’s lack of restraint. When it was more necessary to calm down and show sanity, Piñera spoke of war. He poured gasoline on the fire. I felt that he was out of control – a disgraceful president who does not know how to govern. His words have made everything worse. Until those days Piñera ruled Chile based on monitoring opinion surveys. The man was convinced that surveys were the best way to rule.
In just three days, the social blowout proved its political ineffectiveness. He showed his arrogance — a man who does not know how to govern. There was accumulated anger. Chile is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Neoliberal politics sold everything into private hands: water, health, education. The sea is private, and the roads are private. Wages and pensions – miserable.
In Pichilemu, a young writer told me that her mother called her on her cell phone and asked her to take care of herself. “Mom, do not worry. I’ll be fine”. And then her mother cried on the phone. Her mother remembered the time of the Pinochet dictatorship when she was young. She knows how things used to be. Chilean trauma, like a ghastly ghost, reappears as if it were a horror movie.
More than 44 days have passed. Things have gotten worse day by day. The paralyzed government continues to intensify the repression. Several international human rights organizations have publicly denounced human rights abuses. There have been several cases of people linked to the social movement who have turned up dead in suspicious circumstances.
The billionaire Piñera is an egocentric man. Sitting on top of his millions of dollars, he lives today in a moral vacuum. Piñera has led a country to a terrible crossroads.