In defence of human rights in Chile: An open letter to the Australian community

A Chile solidarity protest in Sydney on October 27.
A Chile solidarity protest in Sydney on October 27. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

We express our deep concerns about human rights violations taking place in Chile, including the de facto war that billionaire President Sebastian Piñera has unleashed on his people. 

On October 18, Chilean students took to the streets to protest a hike in public transport fares. There have been many rallies and marches throughout the past 30 years against rising costs and neoliberal policies that have widened the gap between rich and poor (0.01% of the population controls 12% of all wealth in Chile) and made the living conditions of the majority of Chileans completely unbearable. Successive governments have done little to meet people's demands and basic needs. Chile is one of the most privatised and inequitable countries in the world.  

This time, in response, Piñera deployed more than 12,000 soldiers and police to quash those expressions of discontent. While the military have now returned to their barracks, Piñera has indicated he will table a bill allowing him to use the military to protect infrastructure, that is, to get them on the streets without a state of emergency being declared. Soon more than 4000 police officers (reservists, etc.) will join the Carabineros (national police force) on the streets. 

More than 20 people (most of them young) have been brutally assassinated and the Chilean Medical Association has confirmed that more than 220 people have been irreversibly blinded as a result of being shot directly in the face by police.

The National Institute of Human Rights of Chile (NIHR) has confirmed that agents of the state have established clandestine detention and torture centres, leading to the lodgement of more than 380 criminal complaints of torture, including for the rape of women and children, by agents of the state.

More than 2300 people have been severely injured, half of them as a result of being shot at intentionally, and more than 7000 people have been arrested. Community members and students have been arrested and disappeared, bringing memories of the bloody regime of the US-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990.

These systematic and state-sponsored human rights abuses aim to repress but also to instil fear and stop demonstrations. Piñera's actions in not prosecuting state agents perpetrating such abuses are reprehensible, leading to calls for his impeachment.

Last month, according to Chilean pollster Cadem, Piñera had a 14% approval rating, making it the lowest since the rule of Pinochet. According to another poll (Pulso Ciudadano), 56% of the population think Piñera should resign, as is the case with largely discredited and perennial MPs. To avoid losing control of Congress, Piñera and a number of those MPs have agreed to allow a plebiscite in April 2020 on the establishment of a new Constitution. If genuine, this plebiscite could remove the legacy of Pinochet, the most criminal and fascist regime in Chile’s history.

However, this largely unrepresentative group of MPs has imposed a 2/3 majority to approve changes to the current Constitution. This is unacceptable, as it will perpetuate the system of deep economic abuse and inequality which has led to this revolt.

Within Latin America, Chile is an important trading partner for Australia, as the country hosts a large number of Australian companies, and on March 6, 2009 the Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement entered into force. Chile has blatantly breached its international obligations to preserve human rights, and Australian business, politicians and the community must not condone those violations. 

We demand that Piñera’s government immediately remove all armed forces from the streets of Chile and stop this senseless slaughter. We demand unfettered participation in the plebiscite via community consultation and a universal vote. We demand that the new Constitution guarantee access to free health and education, a taxation system which distributes wealth equitably, the right to freedom of expression and diversity in the media, dignified pension benefits to the elderly, the decriminalisation of dissent, protection of natural resources and the environment, and constitutional recognition of Chile’s first nations.

Chileans want peace.

Signed by: 

Dr Rodrigo Acuña — Independent researcher

Dr Tim Anderson — Director, Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies

Steve Church — PhD candidate, University of New South Wales

Federico Fuentes — Writer

Dr Waldo Fabian Garrido — Lecturer, University of Western Sydney

Dr Pablo Leighton — Editor, Latin American Research Platform

Dr James Robert Levy — Researcher, University of New South Wales

Antony Loewenstein — Independent journalist, writer and film maker

Victor Marillanca — Journalist

Dr Colm Mcnaughton — Literature lecturer, Trinity College, Melbourne University

Humphrey McQueen — Historian and Canberra activist

Gustavo Mártin Montenegro — Masters (Hons) in Latin American Studies

Dr Hannah Middleton — Social anthropologist (retired)

Carlos Eduardo Morreo — Associate lecturer, Australian National University

Professor Adam Morton — Department of Political Economy, Sydney University

Associate Professor Sara C Motta — Head of Politics, University of Newcastle

Adriana Navarro — Lawyer

Marlene Obeid — Social worker

John Pilger — Journalist

Dr Peter Ross — Honorary senior lecturer, University of New South Wales

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