This summer’s student demonstrations detonated the major social explosion our country is experiencing today after 17 years of an authoritarian regime and two decades of dashed hopes. Over and above this series of events that, in a way, pulled us out of a long period of sleep that followed the dictatorship, what emerges is that the demand for a free, public high-quality education, accessible to everyone, has brought to light the discontent of workers as consumers and the unrest of all Chileans, victims of scandalous and unjust inequalities due to the political and economic orientations set by Pinochet and then accepted by all the governments that have followed.
Today, we have a country that in fact belongs to a handful of companies that act like feudal lords over our land, in which the credit organisations, as well as the major stores, daily grab the meagre resources of the immense majority of the people, a country in which the environment is degraded by the banditry of the major investors with the criminal complicity of those who have the responsibility of guaranteeing and maintaining our national sovereignty and the integrity of our territory – namely the political caste and the army.
The latter, in return, rake in scandalous incomes compared with the feeble means allocated to health and education, housing and pensions. Since Chile had become the paradigm of the wildest form of capitalism for over 30 years everything was done to divide the population, favour a tiny minority and let the vast majority live in ignorance and with a minimal wage as their only resource. It is with the objective of turning us into a source of the cheapest labour to attract the monopolies and multinationals that we have an average per capita income that not even 20% of the population can earn, that we sell our strategic resources for peanuts to the world “markets”.
We have lived through a period when police brutality was freely used against any form of demonstration, protest or opposition, in which unbearable violations of human rights met with the greatest leniency from the courts – verdicts that were ratified by the governments to which Pinochet left the country as a legacy – governments that helped him avoid international sanctions for crimes against humanity.
We have had years of a false transition to democracy, with five governments, during which, for example, Chileans living abroad were not given the right to vote, years marked by the yoke of an electoral system limited to a regime of political parties with two-candidate elections and gigantic funds granted to the families who govern us to enable them to make a profit on their political investments. These families have shown themselves to be completely subservient to powerful big businessmen who, in return, enjoy a good return on their operations against the Public Treasury – under the eyes of a population shocked by their impunity and the complicity of the dominant media. This media, controlled by the group that owns television channels and newspapers, has obviously given up any attempt to defend and represent the people’s interests instead of giving space to the government’s propaganda and the ideology of monopolies. All are consolidated round a mode of development that ever increasingly concentrates wealth, production and trade. This is the reason why they still continue to oppose any pluralism of information and any discordant voices.
Massive demonstrations have shown up the indifference of the authorities, the crude distortion of events and the repressive nature of the reigning system. These demonstrations have, above all, laid bare to the whole world the realities of this country – but also to those of our own people who are still fascinated by the flashy showbiz and trashy taste that is offered them to the detriment of their intellectual dignity and sovereign rights. The Internet networks, the unshakable determination of the youth and the intransigent attitude of several organisations and leaders of civil society are enabling the country to discover that the cause of these perversions is not the lack of resources but the way a perverse political and economic system works, one which has to be overthrown in order to break the chains of cultural inequality and underdevelopment.
As our great heroes of the liberation said in their time, the problem resides, yet again, in the framework imposed on us by an illegitimate constitution, inherited from an imposed power, which the people never approved, such as today’s “Fundamental Charter”. This has allowed those who, in their time, denounced it but totally accommodated themselves to it once in office, to take the elite as hostage and to betray republican values.
It is not for nothing that the demand for a Constituent Assembly is put forward in all the lucid speeches of the student leaders, who are aware that this class education and the unwillingness of the state to respond to social demands are based on an appalling document – illegitimate in its origins and in the way it is applied – but also on the hypocrisy of those who have ruled the country by following the path blazed by the dictator. This is why they accepted some minor changes when it was drawn up, and even adopted some despicable amendments, such as the possibility of political parties replacing members of parliament or senators who had abandoned their mandate – so that today a large number of MPs and senators have been nominated by those who have converted their constituencies into electoral hunting grounds.
If today’s rebels were to depend on the Constitution and the existing laws and parliamentary procedures to resolve the education crisis, to establish fiscal reforms and find a response to the citizens’ many demands, it would be a total failure. The changes demanded in the streets and innumerable places throughout the country must result in an explicit agreement with the present tenants of La Moneda, if we do not want to see a repetition of the procrastination and forgetfulness into which previous aspirations have fallen. This is why the struggle for education, must become “the mother of all struggles”, a decisive battle, as should those to require a Constitutional Assembly, a referendum and a new constitution. Only then can we talk of democracy, of justice and of freedom in Chile, which is still dominated by the discrimination and incompetence of the political caste as a whole.