I know three firemen here in Chile, a volunteer position that is terribly undervalued. Many of the firemen spend most nights at the firehouse, and there are continuous campaigns to donate money to keep the firehouses afloat. One of the firemen that I know had a birthday yesterday. And I saw on his facebook wall that after wishing him a happy birthday, one of his friends said, “hope there are no fires, so you can have a fun night.”
No fires, indeed.
Last night, as part of a protest situation that is absolutely beyond what my US-based brain can easily get around, a department store called “La Polar” was raided and set aflame. The vandals, (news reports some of them as young as ten) breached the roll-down solid metal grate and started throwing burning items inside. It’s not clear if they were molotov cocktails or simply burning lumber.
Why La Polar, and why now? And what is going on in my city?
Here’s a couple of links to other pieces I have written if you want some background.
June 30th protests on Bearshapedsphere. And on MatadorNetwork (same event, different story).
Essentially, students are protesting the free market economy put in place by the dictatorship and its minions, many of whom, after studying for free in Chile, went on to study Masters’ or PhD programs in the United States, where they learned (and later implemented) a neoliberal approach towards economics. This approach, which has caused the cost of universities to rise in a way that makes them unaffordable for nearly everyone, has broadened the gap between rich and poor, which (it is said) can only be bridged by education.
And what does that have to do with La Polar? A scandal broke while I was last out of Chile, having to do with abusive credit tactics implemente by La Polar. Chileans often pay bills in installments. Even when you go to the supermarket, if you pay by credit or debit, they will ask you “cuantas cuotas?” (how many installments?). La Polar, instead of charging people the right amount of each of their installments, reclaculated the prices to the point where people were paying many times what they should have been paying for their purchases. If you buy everything in cuotas, it’s hard to keep track of how much everything should have cost, and so the practice went undetected for some time. It is also, perhaps, fair to note that La Polar is one of the companies that most easily granted its (store) credit card, and because of that, was somewhere where lower-middle class people could shop more easily.
Getting back to education, yesterday morning, there was a protest, run by the high school students. Or I should say, there should have been a protest. It’s too long to explain in detail, but here’s something I wrote for MatadorNetwork on the protest. The police used repressive tactics to prevent the (unpermitted) march from proceeding, interfering with student’s rights to assemble, and their right to free movement. They were not permitted to board metros or micros (buses) to get to the protest start, and closer to downtown, they were stopped, turned away, and manhandled into not walking towards points where conflict was already brewing. I saw more than ten kids get their backpacks searched, a few more asked for their ID. In contrast non-students did not have any of their posessions searched, IDs requested, and were permitted to circulate freely.
The usual aggressive tactics of water cannons and teargas were used to quash each of the small uprisings, or even groups of students singing and in one case, dancing (beside the cultural center Gabriela Mistral). I went home about two hours after the scheduled start of the high schoolers’ protest.
Later at night, the university had another (unpermitted) protest scheduled. I didn’t go out into it, but from what I could see on local media, it was worse. (or does everything just feel more sinister at night?). Rocks, violence, aggression, and one student was hit by a car, the driver of which drove away and then reported himself, saying, he was too afraid (because of all the students) to stay put after striking the pedestrian.
In the meantime, a government functionary from the ministry of culture called the head of one of the university groups, Camila Vallejos a “perra” (bitch) in her twitter feed, saying, “kill the bitch and this ends.” Camila cannot return home, because she has gotten death threats. Her home number was distributed freely and her family has had to disconnect the phone. Story in Spanish here.
There are layers of complexity beyond the scope of this blog, and beyond my knowlege. I observe and take pictures and report because I don’t know how not to. Another thing I don’t know is how all of this will end. These are the most volatile and largest demonstrations in Chile since the dictatorship ended. What does that mean for us here? Will the government bend to student demands? Will it just let them protest until they are hoarse and defeated? Will more violence erupt?
My “favorite” part of the protest so far has been the cacerolazo, or “pots and pans protest.” It’s quite simple, though I’ll bet you’ve never seen one, unless you live here. You go outside and clink a spoon against a pot or pan. And so do your neighbors. I talked to several friends last night, and in downtown, Providencia and Ñuñoa, the banging was clear, a cacophonous rhythmic clinking. People are unhappy. I only hope the politicians with their MBAs and PhDs and double paned windows and houses up on the hillsides where the gap between rich and poor is more evident than anywhere else could hear. And I hope they listen.
I have uploaded a gallery of photos. These are from the high schooler’s protest. I was not trying to sensationalize anything. This is just what I saw through my lens. What I saw with my eyes I tried to paint a picture of for you above. Click to enlarge, or see them on my flickr page. All photos copyright Bearshapedsphere/Eileen Smith. Do not use without permission.
Had report of cacerolazos in Las Condes…let’s hope they were listening. Great fotos, as usual and good background on the La Polar fire. And Piñera introduced the credit card to Chile…so it goes
Thanks Mandi, hadn’t talked to any of my Las Condes contacts yet, so good to know. I really hope an amazing solution is found here, a groundbreaking, government-listens-to-its-citizens and postivie change results. I’m trying to be optimistic. And I’m totally going over to go check out the fire site, of course.
It is an interesting time to be living in Chile. Let’s hope these protests are not in vain and can accomplish something positive for Chileans and the Education system. Although, I do not condone vandalism or destruction of property, I am for civil disobedience, freedom of speech, and the freedom of assembly.
and the freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination. I really hope this brings the change we need here in Chile, and hopefully in short order. Iwould love to see the government do something I can really feel proud of.
this is the best sum up of what has been going on that i have see yet. The protests got pretty bad over here in the valpo region and the cacerolazos were heard from vaplo to viña too, pretty incredible to hear!
thanks so much for letting me know you liked it. I wish I could have been in both places at once, would have liked to see the protests in Valpo/Viña first hand, though I must admit, what makes experiencing the protests possible for me is the fact that I can come home to my cozy apartment and write about them. Got any photos? Would love to see them!
I was surprised just how long the cacerolazo lasted. I expected something like that to go for a couple minutes before losing steam, but the fact that it continued for so long goes hand in hand with the repeated marches this year (for both this issue and HidroAysén) and the feeling in my mind at least that something is different this time, people are really sick of the status quo and won’t rest until there’s a change.
I really hope you are right. I would be so proud to see this change happen right before my lens. And yet today it is really, eerily quiet.
Stay safe Ike.
it’s fine today. We’ll see what tomorrow and subsequent days bring. Maybe they’ll have a referendum, but I think we might be in it for a while. Thanks for dropping by, Sarah, and thanks for your concern.
How easy is for you to show simpathy for people who is detroying public and private property in a country that is not yours, and hurting police officers. If you think that is so cool, why don’t you go back to Washington DC and set up barricades in front of the hite house, because in USA education is not free aither, is it?.
Javier, You misinterpreted my post. I am not promoting or defending vandalism. If you read the story I wrote for MatadorNetwork, you’ll see that it starts with the police warning me that I could get hit by rocks if I stood near them. In addition, I start here by talking about vandalism by hangers-on to the protests in Chile.
Further, by the grace of your government, I am granted legal right to be in Chile, and I pay taxes here, and even have the right to vote. In 15 months, I will be eligible to apply for a passport. I’m sorry you don’t respect your government’s decision to grant me these rights, telling me that Chile is “not mine”.
If you were at the intended (unpermitted) protest on Thursday (or even if not), I invite you to share a link to where you wrote about your impressions. I’m happy to show your side of the story, and will be sure to read your treatise more carefully than you have read mine.
Hi Eileen, we happened to be in Santiago and accidentally found ourselves in the protests. I posted about my todler’s first experience with teargas at Thursday’s protest, with a very different and mom-centric perspective here: Student Protests – Toddlers and Tear Gas
It will be interesting to see what comes. Today was a peaceful protest/celebration for dia del ninos in Valdivia’s main square, which was fun for all. I think I prefer small-town protests…
Hey Jen, Man, that had to have felt terrible, knowing your daughter was going to have to breathe in tear gas. What a terrible experience for you! I hope your next trip to the big city is more peaceful, and the dia del niño event certainly sounds lovely! And probably loads more photogenic!
They also started throwing water and tear gas to people peacefully doing cacerolazos, and during the day, even people waiting for the bus or walking on the streets were attacked by Carabineros.
Un verdadero abuso.
Do you have some time and places on these? I passed a cacerolazo about an hour ago in Plaza Ñuñoa that did not seem to be being broken up, water cannoned or teargassed. Not saying you didn’t see it happen, just think it’s important to get these facts registered.
not OP but yeah there’s video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN-Sv6w2VB4&feature=related
Thanks Julio. I hadn’t seen that video, and was not doubting what the poster said, just think it’s important to show evidence or at least say where or what time things happened. This is not stricly a news blog, but when we’re talking about the news, I like to keep things grounded. Thanks for posting it, and participating in general! Hope to see you around here again!
It was even on TV, in Chilevision (of all channels, to my surprise).
Multiple videos on the internet as well.
I live close to Plaza Ñuñoa, and they were gassed once they stepped on Irrarázaval. I think they returned after that and were gassed again.
Oh, and the Cacerolazo was at 21:00.
And there are problems in Plaza Ñuñoa right now,at 23:45.
Damn, forgot to say, my first comment wasn’t only about Plaza Ñuñoa, Cacerolazos were done through all the country.
Another video like Julio’s: