Chile at a Crossroads, Chileans on the Move

“The oppressive state is a macho rapist.”

– Chilean feminst art collective, Lastesis

Election Day this November rightly occupies the minds and hearts of American citizens, no matter what their political affiliations. The future of the republic itself is at stake. But the U.S. isn’t the only country in the world with an upcoming election, and where the system of government is at issue. Chile, the South American nation that runs along a narrow strip of land between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, faces a national plebiscite on 25 October 2020, just two weeks before Election Day in the States.

In Chile, millions of citizens will go to the polls, cast ballots and decide whether or not to draft a new constitution that would make the nation more democratic. Chileans will also decide who will draft the new constitution, whether members of a constitutional convention elected directly, or a “mixed” convention made up of members of the parliament along with citizens directly elected. The stakes are incredibly high. No one in the country is standing on the sidelines.

Indeed, over the last year, millions of Chileans have been in the streets of the capital, Santiago, and all over the country, protesting the policies and the actions of President Sebastian Pinera, a right wing billionaire, who has an approval rating of about 10% to the population. Approval of the police is less than 20.

The Chilean feminist art collective, Lastesis, created a brilliant, dynamic performance piece titled “Un violador en tu camino” (“A Rapist in Your Way”) to protest gender violence. It has gone viral and has been performed by women around the world.

The haunting lyrics include: “it wasn’t my fault, where I was, or how I dressed/ The rapist was you, the rapist is you/ It’s the police, the judges, the state, the President/ The oppressive state is a macho rapist.”

The protests in Chile which have taken place over the past year have been an integral part of the worldwide movement against authoritarian rule that has taken place from Hong Kong to Belarus. In Chile, protests began over a proposed increase to ride on public transportation. Workers and women, including feminists, as well students, have played leading roles, though all sectors of the population have been involved. After the initial protests in October 2019, they quickly expanded to focus on the perceived failures of Chilean democracy. Over the past year, basic human rights of citizens have been systematically violated.

Americans might take a special interest in Chile in large part because the CIA engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist government of Salvadore Allende. The coup took place on 9/11 in 1973. Singer, song writer and political activist, Victor Jara was arrested and tortured. Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, the 1971 Nobel Prize winner for literature, died on 23 September 1973. Thousands of Chileans disobeyed a curfew and gathered in the streets to honor Neruda and his work.

With U.S. help, General Augusto Pinochet was immediately installed as dictator. He ruled until 1990. Tens of thousands of people were arrested, jailed and tortured. Thousands of Chileans were executed. Trade unions were banned, social security and state owned enterprises were privatized, newspapers censored and a reign of terror imposed on the nation.

Also, thousands of Chileans fled to Mexico and the United States. Some of them, including the novelists, Isabel Allende and Ariel Dorfman, created new lives for themselves in the States and have helped to focus the world’s attention on their homeland. This October, the whole world will be watching the outcome of the Chilean election. It might suggest which way the political scales will tip in the U.S.

In any case, the results will illuminate the tragedies and the glories of Chilean society. Dictatorships take terrible tolls on their own citizens, but they don’t last forever,

Researched and written with a little help from my Chilean friends in the U.S.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.