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THE TRACE OF DICTATORSHIP. WHAT IS HAPPENING IN CHILE?

by Pietro Barbetta

A picture of saturday night from Santiago de Chile

A picture of saturday night from Santiago de Chile

Ya parte el galgo terrible

a matar niños morenos

Ya parte la cabalgata

la jauría se desata

Víctor Jara

A friend from Santiago sent me a message in the middle of the night. Saturday night, 1:15 am: “Pietro, have you seen what is happening in Chile? There are soldiers on the street and a curfew has been imposed from 10 pm to 7 am. A protest has started for the increase in public transport prices and then for all issues in the Paìs: health, education, social security. They have burnt buses, destroyed the subway, soldiers have already killed people on the street, hurt high-school youngsters. The government has not accepted the protest and has imposed the military – the right-wing government. Then clashes between civilians and the military have obviously started - and the worst damages have been made”.z

I wrote her that the New York Times reported 300 arrests and 20 wounded people. Then I added: “Are there also casualties now?”.

She wrote: “There have been casualties since last night but they don’t want to disclose it officially. There are videos on Facebook - but they are erasing them. Obviously they will never say it, we have the trace of dictatorship”.

We, the most aged Italians have had in our mind the trace of Pinochet’s dictatorship since 11th September 1973; it is renewed every time something happens. For instance when I came back from Santiago a few years ago, after visiting the Museum of Memory, which turned into images what I had listened to from a transistor radio, on 11th September 1973 in Milan. Exiles came from Santiago, climbed over the walls in the lowest part of the Italian Embassy, then arrived here and started living again. Today, perhaps someone would reject them, would agree on the curfew, with the military in the square. However, the military in the square in Santiago are not the same thing as soldiers in the square in other places, they have a huge evocative power. The voice of the past reverberates: anyone who will oppose it will be immediately shot, this is what the radio occupied by the military proclaimed.

She wrote: “They have censored information, Pietro, on TV they only broadcast bullshit, forgive me for the word. Any topics are dealt with – but they don’t talk about the dead - you can see what is happening only on social media”.

I wrote: “I am writing something to be published immediately: Can I include our messages?”. She answered: “Of course, without naming people, which can be dangerous”.

Arrived in Chile, the morning of a few years ago, 2016 perhaps? I took a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver asked me if I had visited Latin America, I answered I had, I mentioned the countries I had been to: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico. He told me: “Chile is different, is like Switzerland for you”. It could mean everything and nothing. I asked why: “Thanks to Pinochet, who turned Chile into a country like the United States”.

She wrote: “They have just anticipated the curfew at 7 pm, when people are all in the streets for demonstrations - drones and helicopters are passing: has it come out in the news?”. Then she sent me an image, a picture of a street full of people. Here it is 10:45 pm, in Santiago it is 4:45 pm, in two hours and a quarter people should go back home, what will happen if they don’t do that?

The shadow of the coup, Pinochet’s shadow stands out again above the Moneda, the question is: has it ever been removed? This time the government and the military are not in conflict, therefore there is no need to bomb it. Will it be worse? Will it be better?

On 6th July 2014, Sébastien Monnier wrote a clarifying article on Chile: This country is a scam. I am not speaking of the “other Chile”, of the one per cent of the wealthiest who live “uptown”, I am speaking of the vast majority of the country. In Chile the cost of living is high, close - if not higher (especially concerning education and health) - than that of developed countries in Europe. But Chile is not a developed country; it is only a country that has grown economically, where the purchasing power and quality of life of the majority of the population are misaligned with prices. People live in constant financial tension and insecurity, in a state of indebtedness: these revolving credit cards are such an extraordinary invention, like Cencosud, created to control a population raised in consumer incitement! In supermarkets, Chilean citizens walk slowly, as if they were forced to do so, hunched over their shopping cart - how can we not see the symbol of a form of “repression” in this image? - before arriving at the cash desk to pay their purchases in instalments.

Let us put pieces back together: Chile has pretended for years it had “removed” Pinochet’s dictatorship; in the back rooms of the power and in “popular narrative” Pinochet had instead only been a bit too cruel, but he had been necessary to turn Chile into a rich country, like the USA. This is why dictators had asked liberalist Milton Friedman to be a consultant. Friedman suggested mass privatization. Most of the purchases, at affordable prices, were made by North American and European companies (the sign for Italy was the burning of Enel building). Prices went up: universities, basic products, health, transportation tickets. But the wealth of Chile was a scam. All this in the shadow of military dictators who, after return to democracy, had their role confirmed or retired with a special treatment. Dictator Pinochet was indeed arrested in the United Kingdom and tried for crimes against humanity in Spain only in 2002, few years before his death, in 2006. Today we know that Pinochet is still there.

I wrote: “Here it seems that it is something like Paris Yellow Vests, but I think it is much bigger!”.

She wrote: “Of course, if the military has public power from the curfew then... They don't know how to deal with people, there are videos - I will send them if I find them - where they shoot people.

7 pm was arriving, streets were full of people, she wrote: “You know Pietro, there is such an atmosphere of union and popular strength that it frightens the authority - it is an explosion of old people, children, youngsters, people of all places on the street. Authorities are frightened - the political class is scared - damn right daughter of the dictatorship”. 

Translated by Valentina Gianoli

Pietro Barbetta, Director of Milan Centre of Family Therapy

Analysis by Pietro Barbetta, Director of Milan Centre of Family Therapy

29 October 2019

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