Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has announced a major cabinet shuffle after more than one million people flooded the streets Friday in massive peaceful demonstrations over inequality, high cost of living and privatization. The protest drew more than 5% of Chile’s population and followed days of widespread civil unrest that sparked a violent police and military crackdown across the country. At least 18 people have been killed and hundreds more have been shot and wounded since protests erupted Oct. 19. The protests in Chile began in response to a subway fare hike and have grown into a mass uprising against the government. We speak with Professor Macarena Gómez-Barris, founder and director of the Global South Center and chairperson of Social Science and Cultural Studies at the Pratt Institute, and Alondra Carrillo Vidal, a spokesperson for Chile’s largest feminist advocacy group, Coordinadora Feminista 8M.
AMY GOODMAN: “The Right to Live in Peace” by the legendary Chilean folk musician Victor Jara. Thousands of demonstrators in Santiago gathered Friday and sang this song in unison. Victor Jara’s music has become a soundtrack of the current movement. He was murdered just after September 11th, 1973, when the dictator Augusto Pinochet rose to power in a U.S.-backed coup.
This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Chile, where President Sebastián Piñera has announced a major reshuffling in his cabinet after more than a million people flooded the streets Friday in massive peaceful demonstrations over inequality, high cost of living and privatization. The protest drew more than 5% of Chile’s population and followed days of widespread civil unrest and a violent police and military crackdown across Chile. On Saturday, Piñera also vowed to ease the military-imposed curfew.
At least 18 people have died; hundreds more have been shot and wounded since protests erupted October 19th amid mounting reports of brutality and torture by Chilean authorities. The protests in Chile began in response to a subway fare hike and have grown into a mass uprising against neoliberalism and demands of political reform. Piñera canceled the fee increase, but protests have continued. Chile is one of the richest countries in Latin America, but also one of the most unequal.
For more, we are joined here in New York by Professor Macarena Gómez-Barris. She’s founder and director of the Global South Center and chairperson of Social Science and Cultural Studies at the Pratt Institute. Author of a number of books, including Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile. Her mother worked in the Allende government that was overthrown by the Pinochet regime. Macarena came to the U.S. just after the 1973 coup.
And we’re joined in Santiago, Chile, via Democracy Now! video stream, by Alondra Carrillo Vidal, a spokeswoman for Chile’s largest feminist advocacy group, Coordinadora Feminista 8M. The group organized the largest feminist mobilization since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We’re going to begin with Alondra in Santiago. Can you explain what happened this weekend, the massive protests that took place and what you’re demanding?
ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes, I can try to explain. Because I think it’s really not possible right now, but I can try. Yes. What we saw Friday was the largest mobilization since the end of the dictatorship. Maybe it’s similar in size as the mobilizations to end the dictatorship of Pinochet. And it’s this inorganic tendency of people to occupy the streets and to protest in the streets, but it doesn’t really have any demand. It doesn’t really have any list of demands. It’s almost about everything. It’s about life itself, the way it’s organized in Chile. The way it has gotten worse with the years, and the way that people fear it’s going to be even worse in the future.
Because the political measures that have been taken by all governments, not just Piñera but the governments that came before, of the Concertación [inaudible], the center left governments, have also deepened these political measures that are neoliberal political measures that have made the conditions of life really precarious for the majority in Chile, and also that are sustained in the structural violence like violence against women, against sexual dissidents, against migrants and against the indigenous people. And all of that violence is part of day-to-day life in Chile, I believe. That is why we have not got one demand or several demands, but a horizon for life to change deeply in Chile.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of Piñera dismissing his entire cabinet to form a new one? Does that matter to you and to the protesters at this point?
ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: No. We are asking him to leave. People want to overthrow this government because they are responsible not only for the political measures that have made life precarious in the last years, but also he is responsible politically for the rapes, the sexual political violence that has been taken by the military and the police. He is responsible for the disappearance and murders of people in the last week. So I think he is taking a desperate measure with this asking all his ministers to leave, but it is a desperate measure that will not calm people, because that’s not what we want. We don’t want this government to reorganize itself. We want them gone.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Macarena Gómez-Barris, you have been involved in the struggle in Chile back through your family working in the Allende government. You then fled to this country after Pinochet rose to power. One of the chants in the protest–”Neoliberalism began in Chile; it will die in Chile.” The significance of this?
MACARENA GÓMEZ-BARRIS: This is a powerful statement, and I think one of the things it says, Amy, is the continuities that have happened since the Pinochet dictatorship. As you may know, Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism in many ways, and structural adjustment, and the link to the Washington consensus was strong there. And there has been ongoing pressure on people, creating precarious conditions for many, many years.
And what is important to say here is that the Pinochet Constitution of 1979 that was revised during the dictatorship is still in place, so people are still living with the kind of legal apparatus that was put in place there, and the ongoing security apparatus. There’s much to be said about what is currently going on in Chile, and one thing that has not been documented in the news very directly is the connection with the anti-indigenous legislation and the kind of terrorism, the discussion of terrorism and the discourses of terrorism that have been used [inaudible] Mapuche, Pehuenche, Huilliche peoples in the southern territories. And this has been going on for the last 30 years since the 1990s.
We see this transference of what is happening in the deep south now to Santiago and other places. And this is a really important discussion, because it has served as a lab for the security apparatus. And so the human rights violations, the kinds of torture, the disappearances — they have continuity with what happened before, but it is also continuity with what has been going on much more recently in indigenous Chile.
AMY GOODMAN: Alondra, do you see this only growing? And talk about the feminist leadership of this mass movement. You have 5% of the entire population coming out this weekend.
ALONDRA CARRILLO VIDAL: Yes. I don’t know if it has been a leadership, but it has been an important participation in this. Because I say it’s not a leadership because this has no leadership at all, I believe. People are organizing from below. And what we have done as feminists is we are encouraging people to organize local assemblies to take care of many things. One of them is care — collective care of children and the elderly — local assemblies to take care of food and the sustainment, and also to open a discussion about what we want for the future and what we want as a country. What we have done in March 8th with the several hundreds of thousands of women in the streets is to put forward a program, a political program, to confront many aspects of life. That has been a horizon of the feminist movement in the last year.
AMY GOODMAN: Alondra, we’re going to go to part two of our discussion in a moment and we’re going to post it online at Democracynow.org. Alondra Carrillo Vidal speaking to us from Santiago, Chile, of the Coordinadora Feminista 8M. And here, Pratt University Professor Macarena Gómez-Barris. We will continue the discussion both in English and in Spanish at Democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.