September 11 is a date forever associated with mass murder of civilians — and this was the case nearly three decades before the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. This year, September 11 marks the 40th anniversary of the US-organised military coup that overthrew the elected left-wing government of Salvador Allende and installed a brutal dictatorship headed by General Augusto Pinochet. The day was the start of a nightmare for Chileans, as a reign of terror crushed left-wing groups, trade unions and popular organisations.
In 2006, a generation of Chilean secondary students learnt how to mobilise, blockade streets, raise demands and carry out occupations. But they also learnt how they could be defeated by a system capable of accommodating and coopting mobilisations. It is important to note that this revolt, referred to as the “penguin revolution”, did not arise out of nowhere. Its origins lay in the mobilisations for student transport concessions in 2001 and the creation of a series of collectives and small groups. Demands
Chile may have dispensed with military dictatorship, but agitating for workers’ rights can still get you assassinated. Juan Pablo Jimenez, 35, was the president of the union representing workers at Azeta, one of Chile’s largest electrical engineering companies. On February 21, he was found dead in a pool of blood at his workplace, minutes after finishing a shift, a bullet lodged in his cranium. The initial police report said it was a “bala loca” that killed Jimenez — a random stray bullet that supposedly made its way into Jimenez’s enclosed workshop.
In a move that shows how little has changed since Ernesto “Che” Guevara famously observed the maltreatment of Chile’s copper miners by foreign capitalists in The Motorcycle Diaries, more than 500 mineworkers have been summarily sacked by the Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton. Their offence was to participate in strike action for improved pay and conditions at Escondida, an open-cut mine located in the arid Antofagasta region of northern Chile.
Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin By Gabriel Garcia Marquez New York Review Books, 2012 116 pages, $19.95 (pb) “The most hated man in my life,” declared the casual-dressed, bearded, non-conformist Chilean film director, Miguel Littin, was the balding, near-sighted, clean-shaven, Uruguayan business tycoon who accompanied Littin’s every step on his secret return to the Chile of military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in 1985.
More than 100,000 people rallied in Santiago on May 16 in protest against Chile's wealth-based education system. The protest ― which included students, parents, teachers and unionists ― was part of an ongoing campaign that began in May last year. The movement has challenged Chile's education system, under which the quality of a person's education is determined by their ability to pay high fees.
Huge student protests that broke out last year gave a tremendous jolt to Chilean society, as reflected even by public opinion polls. When La Nacion asked a group of poll takers to name the best thing about 2011, 63% answered the student and environment mobilisations, compared with just 17% who chose the University of Chile soccer team, which won the South American cup at the end of November. Just 3% chose the Cervantes Prize, the big Spanish-language literary prize, which was awarded to Chilean writer Nicanor Parra.
“The future of the education struggle in Chile is uncertain, but we are very hopeful of the outcome," University of Chile academic Dr Leonora Reyes told a September 15 forum at the Queensland University of Technology. "But for sure, after this cycle of student upsurge, our country will not return to the past.” The forum was sponsored by Australian Solidarity with Latin America (ASLA), the National Tertiary Education Union (University of Queensland) and the QUT Student Guild and was chaired by Socialist Alternative's Rebecca Barrigos.
Since May, Chile has been rocked by sustained protests, occupations and strikes by students and their supporters in a huge struggle for free, public education. The fight is part of the struggle to overturn the legacy of the 1973-'90 Pinochet dictatorship. From the very beginning, students and educators were an important target for the dictatorship. General Augusto Pinochet led a US-backed military coup against the elected left-wing government of president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.
What began several months ago with students taking over their high schools and universities has swelled into one of the largest protest movements in Chile’s history. Student protests, involving tens of thousands of students and teachers, have dovetailed with angry demonstrations of workers in other sectors. The education protests swelled to 600,000 on August 25, the second day of a 48-hour general strike called by a confederation of 80 unions.