New South Wales Senate candidate Paula Sanchez told Green Left’s Alex Bainbridge she is proud to be receiving so much support from the Latin American community, but she has no illusions in how hard it will be to be elected and to make the radical changes required.
What do you think are the key federal issues?
I work in health. I’ve been a nurse for more than 20 years, but I also teach practitioners and midwives. We need universal, public and good quality health care where the workers and patients are looked after. If the health workers are looked after, patients will be also.
I’m in favour of free, universal, high quality education which is accessible to all, especially migrant communities. Quality housing for all is another important issue for me.
I am a member of, and active in, the National Tertiary Education Union and the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association. People should be unionists so their rights are respected. There was a strike by nurses and midwives recently because the poor working conditions under the pandemic; it showed the failures of the system for both workers and patients.
You were a young person fighting the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. How did that influence your politics today?
I was 5 when [Augusto] Pinochet launched his military coup against the Salvador Allende government in 1973. I was 13 when, together with my sister who was 12, we became involved in the Youth Communist Party. We felt we had to take a stand.
People were very afraid because the dictatorship was very cruel. We joined a clandestine group and started to protest, hand out leaflets and pamphlets and do graffiti. We knew it was dangerous and it got more dangerous over time.
We lived under a repressive, capitalist government which sold off the land, water, electricity and our natural resources to international corporations. Chileans are now having to fight for free water — a basic right.
In 1987, when I was 19 years old, I was put in prison for two months. I was very lucky not to have been disappeared, or killed. I was interrogated for a couple of days, which was not good, but I knew what I was doing and the risks.
I had been “disappeared” for a few days from the university where I was studying my second year of marine biology and the Human Rights Commission suggested we leave the country. My parents, my sister and I came here in 1998. I learned English, studied and continued being an activist.
Under capitalism, very few people own all resources. Chileans are now trying to re-nationalise the country’s resources because people are suffering: they are going hungry.
I feel very strongly about this: I know how hard life is when people live in extreme poverty. Australia is also capitalist, but it still has a social safety net — such as Medicare — even if we have to fight to maintain it.
What gives you hope?
Young people give me hope, especially Greta Thunberg and her fight for the environment and justice struggles, which include support for the people of Palestine and Gaza.
I believe in people — and socialism gives me hope. Socialism and ecosocialism will improve the way resources are distributed. We’ll have a plan to make our society better.
It won’t be easy, because we have a lot of enemies and the media will not help us.
Why run with Socialist Alliance instead of Labor or the Greens?
It took me a while to agree to represent Socialist Alliance because I’m so busy with my solidarity work with various Latin American communities as well as my union work and my paid work. I am proud to be doing it.
Things have become really bad under the Coalition government: education, aged care and other social services have become much worse. The cost of living is also going up.
The Greens are progressive, but not radical enough for what is necessary.
What sort of support is the Latin American community showing?
I’m getting a lot of support. Latin Americans tell me if I win I’ll be the first Latin American woman to have a Senate position. They have hope. They support me because they know me for a long time from music, political activism, fundraising and solidarity.
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