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Film Review: El Viaje Espacial

By |13/December/2020|

Carlos Araya Díaz’s El Viaje Espacial is a unique trip through Chile’s bus stops and society, which weaves social dilemmas, overheard conversations and beautiful tableau shots into a vital reflection on migration.

Weaving together social dilemmas, overheard conversations and well-composed tableau shots, El Viaje Espacial (Space Journey, 2020) is a unique excursion through Chilean bus stops and society. In its observational style, it uncovers an unexpected layer of authenticity, with wide-shots granting space to reflect on distant conversations that are being observed. As the viewer advances through a collection of bus stops, from the Atacama Desert, to the streets of Santiago, to the southern-most and desolate regions, the documentary uncovers a far-reaching portrait of Chile and its people, their temperament and contradictions.

In his trip through Chilean society, the film’s director Carlos Araya Díaz draws the audience into one theme in particular: immigration. Here is where the film finds its purpose as it shines a light on the issues around immigration and xenophobia within Chile’s current social-political climate. At moments there are overheard conversations demonstrating the extent of the discrimination these diverse migrant groups receive, especially the Haitian community which the film focuses on. It is estimated that since 2013 more than 100,000 Haitians have arrived to Chile escaping political turmoil and natural disasters, quickly becoming one of the country’s largest migrant communities. Even though many of those who arrive are educated and have worked professionally in their respective fields, from headmasters to doctors, in Chile they encounter a barrier of rampant discrimination.

The film attempts to confront many misplaced and ignorant misconceptions. One poignant scene explores this contradiction clearly, as the camera focuses on the tanned white skin of a group of beachside tourists discriminating against migrant workers. The following shots show a young Haitian woman cleaning a bus stop nearby, presumably the same one used by the tourists. This juxtaposition, albeit straightforward, challenges a common ignorance that populates xenophobic discourses.

Instances of solidarity are given equal weight, such as migrant and indigenous solidarity marches, highlighting the similarities rather than the differences between people who were born in Chile and those who have arrived. This theme has been explored in other recent films like Perro Bomba (2019), which mixes fiction and documentary. However, El Viaje Espacial’s message resonates beyond Chile with its clear appeal to the universal human right of migration. In this broader sense, the film asks the audience to ponder one key question: aren’t we all just trying to get somewhere?

Where to Watch: Available on Vimeo VOD in United States and Chile

Film Review: El Viaje Espacial

By |13/December/2020|

Carlos Araya Díaz’s El Viaje Espacial is a unique trip through Chile’s bus stops and society, which weaves social dilemmas, overheard conversations and beautiful tableau shots into a vital reflection on migration.

Weaving together social dilemmas, overheard conversations and well-composed tableau shots, El Viaje Espacial (Space Journey, 2020) is a unique excursion through Chilean bus stops and society. In its observational style, it uncovers an unexpected layer of authenticity, with wide-shots granting space to reflect on distant conversations that are being observed. As the viewer advances through a collection of bus stops, from the Atacama Desert, to the streets of Santiago, to the southern-most and desolate regions, the documentary uncovers a far-reaching portrait of Chile and its people, their temperament and contradictions.

In his trip through Chilean society, the film’s director Carlos Araya Díaz draws the audience into one theme in particular: immigration. Here is where the film finds its purpose as it shines a light on the issues around immigration and xenophobia within Chile’s current social-political climate. At moments there are overheard conversations demonstrating the extent of the discrimination these diverse migrant groups receive, especially the Haitian community which the film focuses on. It is estimated that since 2013 more than 100,000 Haitians have arrived to Chile escaping political turmoil and natural disasters, quickly becoming one of the country’s largest migrant communities. Even though many of those who arrive are educated and have worked professionally in their respective fields, from headmasters to doctors, in Chile they encounter a barrier of rampant discrimination.

The film attempts to confront many misplaced and ignorant misconceptions. One poignant scene explores this contradiction clearly, as the camera focuses on the tanned white skin of a group of beachside tourists discriminating against migrant workers. The following shots show a young Haitian woman cleaning a bus stop nearby, presumably the same one used by the tourists. This juxtaposition, albeit straightforward, challenges a common ignorance that populates xenophobic discourses.

Instances of solidarity are given equal weight, such as migrant and indigenous solidarity marches, highlighting the similarities rather than the differences between people who were born in Chile and those who have arrived. This theme has been explored in other recent films like Perro Bomba (2019), which mixes fiction and documentary. However, El Viaje Espacial’s message resonates beyond Chile with its clear appeal to the universal human right of migration. In this broader sense, the film asks the audience to ponder one key question: aren’t we all just trying to get somewhere?

Where to Watch: Available on Vimeo VOD in United States and Chile

The Death of Democracy in Brazil

By |30/December/2020|

The dismantling of Brazil’s democracy, which culminated in the jailing of former president Lula Da Silva as he looked certain to be reelected, is the subject of a new English-language investigative podcast.

Cícero Ezequiel Filho lay beneath the sweltering sun of Brazil’s capital, Brasilia. He wore khaki shorts, John Lennon glasses and a long white beard, which stretched far below his chin and over a red long-sleeved shirt with the face of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on the front.

When I met him in August 2018, Cícero had been outside Brazil’s Supreme Court for two weeks. He refused to eat until former president Lula was free.

Lula had been jailed four months earlier, after he was convicted by a biased judge on suspect corruption charges, with no material evidence.

Now, union members and urban and rural social movements had descended on Brasilia to march to the country’s electoral court to register Lula’s candidacy for the 2018 presidential elections, despite his imprisonment.

The crowds had carried Cícero with them through the streets of Brasilia in a make-shift hammock, because he was too weak to walk.

Now, back on the hard concrete in front of the Supreme Court, a small red umbrella covered his face from the sun. Signs in red, black and white were strapped to the chair beside him, reading ‘Free Lula’ or ‘Political Prisoner.’ A security guard watched from behind a long metal fence, beside an oversized granite statue of a woman, seated, blindfolded, holding a sword.

‘I’m strong,’ he said in a voice so soft that it was hard to hear him over the din of constant traffic and occasional tourists who spoke loudly and stared at him curiously from a distance. ‘When you fight for justice. When you fight for a country, to rescue the country’s democracy, that’s what carries us on.’

In 2016, a conservative congress had impeached then-president Dilma Rousseff, in what was clearly a congressional coup. Lula represented hope for the country’s return to democratic order.

Cícero was 61. He had worked for more than three decades as a banker. Now, he had pushed that life aside. He was one of seven people on a hunger strike to demand Lula’s freedom.

‘We understand that Lula is a leader who could unite the country.’

Lula likely could have, but he was not given the chance. He was blocked from running in the 2018 presidential race due to the corruption conviction. It opened the door to far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who won the presidency on 28 October 2018, in a race marred by violence, hate crimes, fake news and an illegal direct messaging campaign over WhatsApp.

Two years later, Lula is now free, but Bolsonaro has set the country ablaze. He has stacked his government with military officials. He’s gutted environmental and indigenous agencies, rolled back labour rights, pushed privatisations and development in the Amazon, empowering large landowners and illegal land-grabbers to force their way into conservation areas and indigenous territories. Deforestation and fires have spiked to their worst rates in a decade. Like Trump,

Best of the Web: November 2020

By |15/December/2020|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) Paulo Freire and Popular Struggle in South Africa (Zamalotshwa Sefatsa/The Tricontinental)

Paulo Freire was a radical educator from Brazil whose work was tied to struggles for human freedom and dignity.

2) EmpoderArte uses film to empower Peruvian women (Gianna Giordani/Latin American Bureau)

Social arts organisation EmpoderArte is run by Karoline Pelikan, LAB’s film editor and director of Cine Latino and Pelikan Pictures. Having won important funding from Peru’s Ministry of Culture, Gianna Giordani finds out more about the organisation and its plans for the future.

3) Washington Bullets w/ Vijay Prashad (Guerrilla History podcast)

In this episode of Guerrilla History, the guys run through some of the long and sordid history of US interventions abroad, whether by the military, the CIA, the IMF, or other even less thought about methods.

4) Maradona: the Bolivarian Soccer Genius (Danny Shaw and William Camacaro/CounterPunch)

The fighting peoples of the world lost a humble legend yesterday. Arguably the greatest soccer player to ever grace the pitches, the spirited striker combined unparalleled skills in his sport and an unflinching outspokenness before oppression.

5) Brazilian Organized Crime Has a Close Friend in Jair Bolsonaro (Damian Platt/Jacobin)

Brazil is governed by a president with well-documented links to Rio’s mafias. In order to understand Jair Bolsonaro’s rise, it is key to understand the link between his brutal law-and-order politics and the increasing stranglehold of organized crime over Rio.

6) Peru: The Streets Are Rising Up (Carlos Alberto Adrianzén/Progressive International)

The ongoing protests and political turmoil in Peru have exposed a deep divide in Peruvian society.

7) Demands for Land and Housing Continue After Guernica Eviction (Lucía Cholakian Herrera/NACLA)

A land occupation on the outskirts of Buenos Aires showed the cracks in an increasingly unequal system and the resilience of community organization.

8) Hurricane Eta hits the Mosquito Coast (John Perry/London Review of Books)

Central America’s ‘Mosquito Coast’, the home of the Miskito people, stretches between Honduras and Nicaragua. The border is at a point that juts out into the Caribbean: Columbus called it Cabo Gracias a Dios for the shelter it provided on his last voyage.

9) The Devil’s Backbone: Horror films highlight human rights abuses in Latin America (Deborah Shaw/The Conversation)

Recent Latin American movies have combined realism, fantasy and the supernatural to shine a light on social ills and human rights abuses.

Documentary

10) Bojaya: Colombia’s community leaders caught in the crossfire (Al Jazeera English)

Undeterred by death threats, Leyner Palacios, a community leader in Colombia, fights for peace and human rights.

Documentary: Cuba & Covid 19

By |8/December/2020|

This new documentary explores how Cuba reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic by mobilising its healthcare system and helping save lives overseas.

A global pandemic in a globalised world. Over one million people have died. What could we have done differently to save lives and livelihoods? In search of collective solutions and best practice, Dr Helen Yaffe and Dr Valia Rodriguez look to Cuba for valuable lessons. By reacting decisively, mobilising their extensive public healthcare system and state-owned biotech sector, Cuba has kept contagion and fatalities down and begun over a dozen clinical trials for Covid-19 treatments and vaccines. They have also treated Covid-19 patients and saved lives overseas. Within seven months of the pandemic, Cuba had sent nearly 4,000 medical specialists to 39 countries. This has been achieved despite the Trump administration severely tightening sanctions against Cuba, blocking revenues and generating scarcities of oil, food and medical goods.

Cuba & Covid-19: Public Health, Science and Solidarity is produced by DaniFilms in collaboration with Belly of the Beast Cuba. English subtitles embedded, select subtitles/CC for Spanish subtitles.

If you would like to donate to buy material aid for Cuba’s healthcare system, please do so here.

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A New Peru, Struggling to be Born?

By |2/December/2020|

While November saw two Peruvian presidents removed in a week and the emergence of a grassroots movement to defend democracy, there are no clear answers yet as to who will benefit in the long term.

It is not the first time that Plaza San Martín, one of the major squares in Lima’s historic centre, has been surrounded by police and filled with protestors demonstrating against the country’s political elite, but this time something felt different.

The week beginning 9 November saw a series of major demonstrations pop up around Lima, and across Peru, in condemnation of the removal of President Martín Vizcarra from power by the Peruvian Congress. Despite Peru having the third highest per capita Covid-19 death toll in the world, Vizcarra had maintained a strong level of popularity due to his efforts to push through anti-corruption reforms.

Angry at this ‘parliamentary coup’, thousands of Peruvians took to the streets and were met with tear gas, kettling, arbitrary arrests and disproportionate violence from the police. At one particularly alarming point in the week, a human rights lawyer was arrested while representing detainees, and 43 protestors disappeared into the prison system without a trace. Fortunately, all have now been found and released, but it was later reported that two young people had been killed during further demonstrations.

These protests were powerful enough to make the rule of the new president, Manuel Merino, untenable, and he was forced to resign after only six days in office. With a new interim president, Francisco Sagasti – who has been deemed acceptable to most protestors because he and his party voted against Vizcarra’s removal – now in power and police reprimanded for their violence, the crisis would seem to have mostly passed. However, many of the young protestors and grassroots groups on the streets, angry at years of political stagnation, instability and the levels of police violence, have now realised their own power. With trade unions only now beginning to join the struggle, the cat may well be out of the bag, and there is talk of ‘another Chile’ as support for constitutional reform grows.

However, with presidential elections on the horizon in April 2021, no clear leader, coherent ideology or even demands – beyond the removal of Merino – is yet to emerge from those mobilised on roads and plazas across the country.

A new front in Latin American ‘lawfare’?

As many Peruvian scholars have been at pains to point out in recent weeks, Vizcarra’s removal has been incorrectly referred to as an impeachment across much of the Western media. The term impeachment implies a proven allegation of wrongful actions, which is not the case with Vizcarra’s removal. Although Peru’s anti-corruption team – which has previously brought charges against former presidents Alan García, Alejandro Toledo, Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski – has raised questions about Vizcarra’s dealings when governor of Moquegua, these have yet to be fully investigated.

What has actually happened is that Congress voted, on 9 November, to approve a presidential ‘vacancy’ on the grounds that

It’s Time to Abolish the Organization of American States

By |23/November/2020|

Throughout its history, the OAS has been a tool of Washington’s domination of Latin America — and an obstacle to genuine efforts at regional integration.

Progressive and centrist politicians from across Latin America are calling on Organization of American States (OAS) secretary general Luis Almagro to resign over his role in last year’s coup against Bolivian president Evo Morales.

In a letter initiated by the Puebla Group, 29 current and former presidents, ministers and parliamentarians state that subsequent events have confirmed ‘there was no fraud in the October 2019 elections and that Evo Morales would have been sworn in as legitimate president of Bolivia if the OAS, in its position as observer, had not refused to recognise the results.’

They note that when the OAS questioned the results – despite the lack of any evidence of fraud – it helped ‘unleash a situation of political and social violence that resulted in a coup and the subsequent resignation of President Evo Morales.’

In light of this, ‘it is obvious that the regional leadership of OAS secretary general Luis Almagro has come under serious scrutiny. The role he played in the destabilisation of democracy in Bolivia and the non-inclusive relations he has maintained with other countries in the region prevent him from being able to continue playing this role…’

This mention of ‘non-inclusive relations’ refers to Almagro’s role in coordinating with the United States and the Lima Group, a regional coalition of rightwing governments, to lobby for the exclusion of Venezuela’s government, headed by president Nicolás Maduro, from the OAS and other regional bodies. The Lima Group instead seeks recognition for opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who proclaimed himself the country’s ‘interim president’ in 2018. Following Venezuela’s withdrawal from the OAS in 2018, the body voted 18 to nine (with seven abstentions) to accept a Guaidó envoy as Venezuela’s delegate.

The letter is signed, among others, by former presidents Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Ernesto Samper (Colombia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Fernando Lugo (Paraguay); ex-ministers Jorge Taiana (Argentina), Clara López (Colombia), Ana Isabel Prera (Guatemala) and Aída García Naranjo (Peru); former senators Adriana Salvatierra (Bolivia) and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (Mexico); and sitting senator Alejandro Navarro (Chile).

The letter concludes that Almagro’s resignation ‘would help recover peace in the region and reactivate the regional integration that we desperately need in these times of pandemic.’ But while there is no doubt that Almagro has to go, history tells us that the OAS’ problems run much deeper than its current general secretary alone.

US Regional Hegemony

Indeed, far from seeking to bring together neighbours as equals, the OAS was established by the United States in 1948 as an instrument for asserting Washington’s geopolitical power over what it traditionally viewed as its ‘backyard.’ While OAS members include all the countries of North, South and Central America, and the Caribbean – minus Cuba – it is headquartered in Washington and receives most of its funding from the United States.

Set up in the midst of its Cold War, the OAS’s subordination to US anti-Communist interests

Puerto Rico, The World’s Oldest Colony, Charts a New Course

By |20/November/2020|

The time is now for progressives and socialists around the world to recognise Puerto Rico as the nation and the country that it is.

Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. In fact, the ‘unincorporated territory’ of Puerto Rico continues to maintain the dubious distinction of being the world’s oldest existing colony.

Over 500 years since Christopher Columbus himself first claimed the island of Borikén for the Spanish crown, Puerto Ricans still have essentially no control over their economy, no control over their borders and no ability to represent themselves in important regional organisations such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Latin American Community (CELAC) or the United Nations. This colonial status has been put on full display throughout the pandemic as Puerto Rico has been forced to open its borders for US tourists who flagrantly flout local health regulations, while the island’s pandemic response has been undermined by the inability to negotiate directly with its Caribbean neighbours. Puerto Rico’s colonial challenges are centuries old, but the island is beginning to imagine new futures.

The Puerto Rico of today is radically different from the island where my father was born. My father has been separated from his island for over four decades. And yet, like most Puerto Ricans who are forced to leave, he has remained fiercely proud of his Puerto Rican roots and his Boricua identity. My father was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1959. It was not even ten years prior to his birth that, on 30 October 1950 in the neighbouring municipality of Jayuya, Puerto Rican nationalists, led by the incomparable Blanca Canales, rose up in defiance of US colonial rule and declared independence for Puerto Rico. It did not take long for the colonial government in San Juan, at the time led by liberal icon Luis Muñoz Marín, to send in aircraft with the express purpose of pummelling the town into submission. This revolt, and subsequent bombing, of civilians would become known as the Jayuya Uprising, or El Grito de Jayuya, and was one of the key events that forced the Puerto Rican independence movement underground once again. Now, almost 70 years later to the day, Puerto Rican independentistas continue to struggle for sovereignty and still dare to wave the Puerto Rican flag despite relentless efforts by the United States to repress them. It was only 15 years ago that the FBI killed Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos in a ‘shootout’ that would draw condemnation from across the island. And yet, in the last decade, Puerto Rico has undergone some of the most significant challenges of its entire history as a US colony, with that very same colonial status at the root of it all.

This colonial status has been at the centre of all of the major crises that have engulfed the island and its people within the last decade. The accumulation of staggering public debt, over $70 billion, was a direct result of the very same policies that saw US corporations thrive in

Book Review: ‘Nothing by Accident’ by Damian Platt

By |16/November/2020|

Damian Platt’s Nothing by Accident: Brazil on the Edge is not just an excellent introduction to Brazilian politics generally, but an insightful exploration of the country as a whole.

‘I hope readers will understand that Rio de Janeiro is not always the tragedy described in these pages. It is also a fantastic, exhilarating, culturally exuberant city that is home to an inspiring, imaginative and welcoming population.’

So concludes the preface to Damian Platt’s Nothing by Accident: Brazil on the Edge, a compassionate, informative and hard-hitting account of life in 21st-century Brazil. The introductory chapter is titled ‘Homicidal Times’ and, whether or not this is sardonic word play, it at once reads like both a fictional thriller and grisly reportage, recounting a web of death, drugs and corruption. In fact, as Platt has presented us with a real-time account, by the end of this first page there is an update: the victim, Gabriel – ‘the son of our beloved housekeeper’ – has disappeared. Whilst the personal connection to the disappeared brings home the pervasiveness of violence, the mention of disappearances is a chilling reminder that the country is not free from terrors that characterised its Cold War.

With 15 years of living and working in Brazil under his belt, it is no surprise that Platt writes as he does. Much like Óscar Martínez covers Central America, he covers Brazil with clarity and colour; painting, narrating and informing all in single sentences. Phrases such as ‘screaming social violence and disparity’ are followed by descriptions of his abode being ‘tucked into a hillside, virgin tropical rainforest cover[ing] the slopes above the property, which looked towards a mesmerising vista of city and sea.’ Platt writes with warmth and it is his honest, experienced tone that makes the book all the more readable, in spite of the horrors it presents.

Such is the tragic reality of a country ‘on the edge’ that residents appear to exist on a seesaw of tension. For example, Platt recollects a hot Sunday afternoon in Alemão favela, surrounded by laughter, music, paddling pools and barbecue scents, not wanting to be anywhere else – yet when gunshots sound he ‘dropped [his] beer on the tiles and lay face down in it’. On other occasions, attending baile funk parties, he might become lost in the atmosphere of ‘hypnotic music, [a] light show and [an] enthusiastic throng of dancers’, from which he is awaked by the ‘sight of a thin, ill-looking child a few steps away, eyes rolling back into his head’. Indeed, so vividly is Brazil brought to life, with adjectives assigned to music and decades of history conveyed with concision, that the brutalities of daily life are all the more affecting.

Turning to these brutalities, the second chapter’s title posits ‘waging war’ as ‘a way of life in Rio de Janeiro’. This war has many fronts: corrupt police forces who – in a disturbing echo of the Colombian ‘false positives’ scandal – register those they kill as ‘deaths in confrontation’ whilst ‘extrajudicial executions’

Life vs Profit in Honduras

By |8/November/2020|

Environmental activist Arnold Morazón Erazo was murdered in October, yet another act of violence towards communities which oppose large-scale resource extraction in Honduras.

Environmental activist Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo was killed in the backyard of his home in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, on Tuesday 13 October. Engaged in the defence of community rights, Arnold was one of the 32 settlers of the Guapinol river sector who, in 2018, established a resistance camp demanding the immediate withdrawal of the mining company Minera Inversiones Los Pinares, which has polluted rivers such as the Ceibita and the Carlos Escaleras National Park.

Having been labelled by the Honduran government as dangerous criminals, Guapinol activists have been falsely accused of usurpation and damage to investment, arson, unjust detention, aggravated robbery and illicit association, which resulted in the arrest of twelve of them.

As reported by The Coalition Against Impunity, the mining company in question is owned by Lenir Pérez, who was been implicated in the kidnapping of two human rights defenders when he tried to install another mining operation in the community of Nueva Esperanza. On that occasion, the justice system did not hold him accountable despite the evidence.

Climate change and the persecution of environmental activists

Unfortunately, the killing of Morazán Erazo is not an isolated case in a country where private profit matters more than human life and the protection of the environment. Although the overall homicide rate decreased from 86 to 41 per 100,000 people under the Juan Orlando Hernández government, the level of violence against human rights defenders and journalists increased. Moreover, crimes against activists and human rights defenders see a 97 per cent rate of impunity.

For instance, in 2019 alone, 29 human rights activists were killed and more than 500 were victims of attacks for defending the rights of indigenous communities and access to natural resources. Indeed, climate activists and indigenous rights defenders denounce the existence of a general pattern of criminalisation and persecution for opposing mining projects. In particular,  from 1 January to 25 November 2019 the Human Rights organisation ACI Participa documented a total of 1,115 attacks on 499 human rights defenders.

During the last decade, Honduras was the second most affected country by climate change, which is not only the third highest cause of emigration after violence and hunger, but also of internal displacement and diseases such as dengue. Within this scenario, the extractivist model is a major cause of territorial conflicts.

Moreover, since the coup of 2009, specific legislative packages legalising extractivism – including a mining law, the concession of vast areas of the national territory for mining exploration and exploitation, the construction of dams and approval of deregulated economic projects (known as ZEDEs) – were approved under conservative governments.

According to the Center for Justice and International Law (Cejil), in 2019, the government granted at least 137 mining concessions and energy and hydrocarbon production licenses in indigenous territories. At the same time, the demands of indigenous communities for access to

Chile: What Next?

By |8/November/2020|

Chile’s recent referendum result is a huge opportunity for progressive change, but a real struggle remains to translate mass social mobilisation into the convention that will write the new constitution.

This article has been republished on Progressive International’s Wire, of which Alborada is a member, and translated into French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.

On 25 October 2020, Chile’s people voted by a crushing margin to support the writing of a new constitution, and to do so through the election of a new constitutional convention. This was an overwhelming defeat of the Chilean government, which had initially sought to amend the existing 1980 constitution (inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship) and then to have a new constitution written by the parliament they dominate.

The Chilean left has always rejected the legitimacy of Pinochet’s 1980 constitution. In fact, the entire opposition rejected it until the mid-1980s, when US efforts to support a ‘democratic transition’ began. Pulling together regime and opposition ‘moderates’ meant pulling apart the broader opposition, and gradually the situation changed until eventually only the Communists and various smaller groups maintained their outright hostility to the constitution. Accepting the dictatorship’s constitution, and to never again attempt a Popular Unity-type government – the political coalition led by socialist president Salvador Allende from 1970 to 1973 – was the price paid for a return to power within a highly restricted democracy. ‘We have left them bound, well bound,’ noted Pinochet smugly.

But the price was paid by the people in every struggle since 1990. Students, indigenous people, workers, environmentalists and every social or political movement for change eventually met with the implacable wall of Pinochet’s constitution. It was reformed several times, removing the most egregious authoritarian elements such as designated senators, but its essence remained: no major social, political or economic reform was possible. It was a strait jacket, a pressure cooker of words and concepts. Its strength lay in the fears of a traumatised society, buttressed by a pliant media, and the shift towards a consumer society in a world in which socialism was dead.

But the model began to fragment in 2010, when Chile elected a rightwing government for the first time since the 1950s. This was an early sign that the Concertación centrist coalition had lost its allure. The coalition split over whether to compensate for this weakness by allying with the Communist Party. New political parties were founded, fed by the student protest movement. A new centre-left coalition, including the Communist Party for the first time since the Popular Unity, was set up. Called the ‘New Majority’, it governed under President Michelle Bachelet until 2015. But corruption had set in during the long years of power. Highly-paid politicians had also become involved in profit-making from education and pensions. Inequality grew, and it fed anger. In hindsight, the coming eruption was obvious, the intensity of the struggle was growing. After 2015 hardly a month went by without scandal or protest, and all of them were violently repressed by Carabineros (national police) who had hardly changed

A Historic Victory for Gender Equality in Chile

By |3/November/2020|

Having voted to overhaul the Pinochet-era Constitution, Chile will become the first country in the world to write a Constitution with gender parity.

The protests and the overall claim for Dignidad

On 18 October 2019, simmering social unrest in Chile exploded. Led by students in response to Metro ticket price rises by 30 pesos, protests spread across the country, exposing deep inequalities and systemic injustice. ‘No eran 30 pesos, eran 30 años’ (‘It wasn’t 30 pesos, it was 30 years’) became a mobilising slogan for protesters that claimed several demands to address multifold inequalities experienced by the majority of people.

The protests were framed, in broad terms, as a response to the failure of the neoliberal system. While economic and social policies have for decades led to successful macro level indicators, the model has deepened disparities in terms of distribution, political power and representation. The consequent human rights violations and police brutality that followed the protests only deepened the sense of injustice. Issues of representation of ethnic groups and women in politics played a key role, as well as demands related to pension, health and environmental issues, summarised under the overall claim for Dignidad (Dignity).

The demands for change were so fundamental, wide-reaching and varied that less than a month after the beginning of the protests the political establishment agreed on setting up a route map to write a new Constitution through a democratic process. One year and one week later, the country was finally given the chance to vote on whether or not to write a new Constitution and, if so, who would be responsible for writing it.

A new Constitution to address entrenched social inequalities

The results were overwhelming. With a large turnout across the country, 77.6 per cent voted in favour of a new Constitution. Crucially, 78.99 per cent determined that it should be written entirely by elected citizens, half of whom will be women, rather than both citizens and members of parliament.

How and why did a mobilisation driven against inequalities find an answer in a claim for a constituent process? And what do the results and the nature of the body in charge of writing the new Constitution tell us about the fight for gender equality in Chile and Latin America?

When social mobilisations and violence exploded in October 2019, many figures from the establishment claimed that they ‘didn’t see this coming’; while the statement seems to project some humility, it is hard to comprehend it in a country where the depth of inequalities and the ‘social gap’ had been widely researched and socialised by organisations from diverse sectors, as encapsulated by the report ‘Desiguales‘ (‘Unequals’) published by UNDP in 2017. Even more, mobilisations and unrest against injustices in different arenas had grown exponentially: while students’ mobilisations for public education trembled the political agenda in 2006 and 2011, the last decade witnessed the emergence of massive protests around gender and indigenous rights, environmental concerns and pension issues.

Looking back, what all these mobilisations had in common was a call for what

Best of the Web October 2020

By |2/November/2020|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) Protests Against Greed and Inequality Are Spreading Like Wildfire Through Latin America (Alan Macleod/Mint Press News)

Historic protests are taking place across Latin America as people take to the streets to voice their displeasure at the IMF, government corruption, and the spread of fascism.

2) Argentina: Campaigning for Inclusion During the COVID-19 Lockdown (Nina Meghji/Latin American Bureau)

How Queer Tango is helping Buenos Aires’ older residents and keeping alive its LGBTQ+ campaigns

3) I Was Shot and Lost My Sight for Protesting Inequality in Chile. We Need to Keep Demanding Justice (Gustavo Gatica/Time Magazine)

Gustavo Gatica Villarroel was born in Santiago and studies psychology at the Academy of Christian Humanism University. He remains an active participant in the social demonstrations that have rocked Chile over the past year.

4) MAS’s Adriana Salvatierra: “Now We Can Continue the Revolution in Bolivia” (Interview by Denis Rogatyuk & Bruno Sommer Catalan/Jacobin)

Last weekend’s Bolivian elections saw socialist Luis Arce romp to victory with 55 percent of the vote. Former senate president Adriana Salvatierra told Jacobin how the restored MAS government can undo the damage caused by last year’s coup — and set Bolivia back on the path to social transformation.

5) The Other Americans: United States Attacks Cuban Medics During Pandemic (Jeff Abbott/ Progressive)

There are parts of Guatemala that have no access to medical services from the Guatemalan government. This void is being filled by the doctors from the Cuban medical mission, who are working in the most remote parts of the country.

6) Haiti has a Long History of Being Assaulted by its Latin American Neighbors (Lautaro Rivara/ Counterpunch)

A 15-year peacekeeping mission by the UN in Haiti that ended one year ago still has unanswered questions about how Latin American nations came to participate in the occupation against a small, unarmed and impoverished Caribbean nation.

7) Today Is Chile’s Chance to Bury Pinochet’s Legacy (Melany Cruz/Tribune Magazine)

Today’s referendum in Chile provides the opportunity to scrap the right-wing constitution introduced by the Pinochet regime – and rebuild the country on a truly democratic basis.

8) How Venezuela has held back COVID-19 in spite of the US sanctions stranglehold on its economy (Vijay Prashad/Peoples Dispatch)

María Lourdes Urbaneja Durant tells Vijay Prashad that despite sabotage by the US, Venezuela has been able to curb the spread of COVID-19 through “participation of the people”.

9) The Language of Pain (Cristina Rivera Garza/The Paris Review)
What we Mexicans have been forced to witness at the beginning of the twenty-first century—on the streets, on pedestrian bridges, on television, or in the papers—is, without a doubt, one of the most chilling spectacles of contemporary horror.

Documentary

10) The War on Cuba (Reed Lindsay, 2020)

The documentary series, The War on Cuba, gives an inside look on the effects of U.S. sanctions on Cuban people.

Bolivians Reclaim Their Democracy

By |25/October/2020|

The overwhelming MAS election victory is a repudiation of the racist coup regime as well as of the Trump administration and the OAS, which helped install it.

On Sunday 18 October, Luis Arce won the presidency of Bolivia, in a pronounced repudiation of last year’s military coup, which had put the current government in power. Arce is the former economy minister for Evo Morales, who was the first Indigenous president of the country with the largest percentage of Indigenous people in the Americas. Morales’ democratically-elected government was overthrown in November of last year.

The November coup was backed by the Trump administration, and the Organization of American States (OAS) leadership played a central role in laying the foundations for it. Sunday’s election thus has enormous potential implications not only for Bolivia, where it was a necessary step toward the restoration of democracy, but also for the region, in terms of democracy, national independence, economic and social progress, and the struggle against racism.

First, the election: unofficial quick count results show Arce winning with more than 50 per cent of the vote, and at least 20 percentage points ahead of his closest competitor, Carlos Mesa, a former president. A majority is decisive, but even if the final, official count were to put Arce below 50 per cent, his margin over Mesa is virtually certain to be large enough to win the election in the first round (to win in the first round, a contender must get more than 50 per cent of the vote, or at least 40 per cent with a 10-point margin over the runner-up). Mesa has already conceded, and the de facto president, Jeanine Áñez, congratulated Arce on his victory on Sunday night.

It’s not difficult to see why Arce would have won even if he were not up against a violently repressive, racist government installed by a coup. As minister of the economy ever since Morales took office in January 2006, Arce can claim much credit for what any economist would say was a remarkably successful economic turnaround for Bolivia. When Morales was first elected, income per person was less than it had been 26 years prior. By contrast, in the 14 years of his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) government (2006-19), it grew by about 52 per cent. This is a sizable improvement in living standards (sixth out of 34 countries in the region), following on the heels of a stupendous long-term economic failure.

Poor Bolivians, who are disproportionately Indigenous, benefited even more than others from the MAS government’s economic successes. Poverty was reduced by 42 per cent and extreme poverty by 60 per cent. Poorer Bolivians also benefited disproportionately from a very large increase in public investment, including in schools, roads, and hospitals.

By contrast, the 11 months of coup government

Photography

Kiev, 26 May 2018

By |27/May/2018|

Liverpool supporters attending the Champions League final carry banners in solidarity with Brazilian former president Lula Da Silva and Catalan political prisoners. Polls show that if Lula ran in this year’s presidential election, he would win by a landslide and restore the Workers’ Party to government.

Video

Chile’s Student Uprising (Documentary)

By |2/April/2020|

(Director Roberto Navarrete, 35 mins, Alborada Films, 2014)

Mass student protests took place in Chile between 2011 and 2013 demanding a free and state-funded education system and radical change in society. The documentary puts these protests in their historical context of widespread dissatisfaction with the economic model put in place under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), but that still remains largely in place.

The film’s director travelled to Chile between 2011 and 2013 to speak to then student leaders (now Members of Congress) such as Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson, and also to other students, to explore why their protests had caused such effect in Chile and inspired others in the country and beyond.

“Roberto Navarrete’s is the most complete and compelling visual account of Chile’s student uprising to date. All the lessons from Patricio Guzmán’s path-breaking style of documenting in film are there: poetic visuals, an engaged narrative, the focus on personal feelings and stories combined with subtle and accessible analysis, plus a sense of the tragic tempered by the optimism of the will. Navarrete adds to it the passion and distance of the exile’s gaze, and a Latin American Beckettian flare for celebration while thinking. This is a must see for all those interested in the current sway of global rebellions that show us all the shape of things to come. Superb!”

Dr Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Professor in Law, Birbeck, University of London and author of ‘Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973’

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Video

Chile’s Student Uprising (Documentary)

By |2/April/2020|

(Director Roberto Navarrete, 35 mins, Alborada Films, 2014)

Mass student protests took place in Chile between 2011 and 2013 demanding a free and state-funded education system and radical change in society. The documentary puts these protests in their historical context of widespread dissatisfaction with the economic model put in place under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), but that still remains largely in place.

The film’s director travelled to Chile between 2011 and 2013 to speak to then student leaders (now Members of Congress) such as Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson, and also to other students, to explore why their protests had caused such effect in Chile and inspired others in the country and beyond.

“Roberto Navarrete’s is the most complete and compelling visual account of Chile’s student uprising to date. All the lessons from Patricio Guzmán’s path-breaking style of documenting in film are there: poetic visuals, an engaged narrative, the focus on personal feelings and stories combined with subtle and accessible analysis, plus a sense of the tragic tempered by the optimism of the will. Navarrete adds to it the passion and distance of the exile’s gaze, and a Latin American Beckettian flare for celebration while thinking. This is a must see for all those interested in the current sway of global rebellions that show us all the shape of things to come. Superb!”

Dr Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Professor in Law, Birbeck, University of London and author of ‘Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973’

Chile’s Student Uprising (Documentary)

By |2/April/2020|

(Director Roberto Navarrete, 35 mins, Alborada Films, 2014)

Mass student protests took place in Chile between 2011 and 2013 demanding a free and state-funded education system and radical change in society. The documentary puts these protests in their historical context of widespread dissatisfaction with the economic model put in place under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), but that still remains largely in place.

The film’s director travelled to Chile between 2011 and 2013 to speak to then student leaders (now Members of Congress) such as Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson, and also to other students, to explore why their protests had caused such effect in Chile and inspired others in the country and beyond.

“Roberto Navarrete’s is the most complete and compelling visual account of Chile’s student uprising to date. All the lessons from Patricio Guzmán’s path-breaking style of documenting in film are there: poetic visuals, an engaged narrative, the focus on personal feelings and stories combined with subtle and accessible analysis, plus a sense of the tragic tempered by the optimism of the will. Navarrete adds to it the passion and distance of the exile’s gaze, and a Latin American Beckettian flare for celebration while thinking. This is a must see for all those interested in the current sway of global rebellions that show us all the shape of things to come. Superb!”

Dr Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Professor in Law, Birbeck, University of London and author of ‘Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973’