I’m tired of hearing about encapuchados, those malfeasor, hangers-on to the Chilean student protest movement. It’s not clever, it’s not interesting. Social discontent is important, and I’m not sure what these two years of protests will eventually yield, but I’m pretty sure that exposing hundreds of thousands of people to tear gas because you can’t keep that rock in your hand from launching towards a police officer, or that bottle of paint in your pocket from flying through the air to land on a guanaco (water cannon), is not the solution.
There’s also the issue of how well the police are trained, they have a befuddling reaction, one that usually leads to chaos, confusion, destruction, and in one case, a photojournalist losing the vision in one eye (for which the sentence for the police officer responsible was just lowered, don’t get me started. Story (in Spanish). In short, they don’t seem capable of isolating the “antisocials,” which many people suspect is part and parcel of an infiltration into the student movement to make “them” look bad, and have the civil society at large reject their demands.
So far it’s not working, and every time I’m out there, I see more confederations of workers, people who have nothing to do with education (other than having been educated themselves) out there with signs. Yesterday on my way to the march I met a tween and his mom. She was wiping some breakfast crumbs off his face when I stopped to ask them who he thought was at school that day, and he said, some kids are, but almost everyone either supports the march (passively) or is actually here.
Want to know what the beginning of a protest looks like? Here’s some video I shot yesterday and edited last night.
I’ve attended enough marches to see the patterns of behaviour on both sides. A couple of points:
It’s unfair to expect the hooded youths to act rationally – like all teenagers they are not equipped to think things through with regard to consequences. They act according to their impulses and the actions of their peers. They genuinely believe their actions against the state are justified. As such their actions should not so easily be dismissed. The fact that you are constantly hearing about them is proof that their presence is having an impact, and how they should be dealt with is now part of the political point scoring process this election year. After two years they have earned the right to call this progress.
In regard to how the police deal with them, I too have seen mistakes and miscalculations from the police that boggle the mind and only serve to incite more violence. But in regard to your comment that they don’t seem capable of isolating the “antisocials”, I have to disagree. Over time I have seen them proactively shut down the escalation of violence through the use of early detainment and methods of dispersion. This will never be enough and there will always be at least one encapuchado bold enough to put a rock though a shop window to ignite a fresh incident. These inevitable street confrontations are then dealt with using deliberate tactic of occupying and distracting the protestors via a battle of attrition. They simply cannot be brought to an end abruptly but must instead be drawn to a close over an extended period of time. This is why you see ordinary citizens carrying their shopping bags and pushing baby strollers through these hazy water soaked war zones as though nothing is happening. It’s understood that this is all just part of a process that needs to play out.
I’m not an apologist for vandals – they need to be dealt with strictly according to the laws. But the question for the citizens of Chile is how many of their hard fought freedoms are they willing to give up in order to prevent the continuation of this damage and destruction. The answer, I hope, is none.
Thanks for your lengthy reply. I have missed a few protests over the last six months, but before that, I have been out on the street at all of them. I see a lot of bumbling and failing to “close in” the encapuchados, rather just pushing them further down the street and letting them wreak havoc. Maybe I see that more closely because I often walk past the República sucursal of BCI, which gets firebombed from time to time. I live in the thick of alot of the protests, down in República myself. That said, I don’t know everything about it, and if people feel like the students are getting closer to what they want, then great.
But here’s a question for you. If the violence and vandalism are what’s working, then why aren’t more of the students and other participants turning to it? Why do they keep showing up, happy and peaceful, with mockups of tanks and politicians and puppets and giant mushrooms? I have to hope they know something important.
It seems like in the end, you are on the side of wanting some educational reforms yourself. I appreciate that. I also wouldn’t want Chileans to give up a single one of their human rights, hard-fought or easily granted. It’s hard to put the whole backstory of who I am into one short video, but if you look back (here and other places I’ve written about it), you’ll see that we are not far apart on this issue. Believe me when I say I would hate to see anyone handing over any rights back to their governments. I’m thinking of post US Sept 11th handing over of book loans at the library, the “entering here gives us a right to search your backpack” signs in Grand Central and Penn Station. I have seen it.
As for our disagreements, I think they’re relatively minor. And for why people act like nothing is going on when there’s protest afoot, I think we’ve all become kind of inured to it. I really do. I’m not originally from Chile, and yet when I’m here, there or anywhere, I feel some shaking, I don’t panic, but I think “earthquake.” I lived in DC in the Sept 11th era, and when I hear a helicopter, I think “police flyover.” And when I smell teargas, I think, “oh, here we go again.”
And I really hope it leads to something great that Chile can unfurl proudly like a flag before all the other education-for-profit societies and say, “We did it, and so can you.”
I was shocked the first time I saw carabineros out in large numbers before these marches performing systematic bag searches of anyone within three blocks of the gathering point. This is a scandalous breach of individual rights, likely a hangover from the military regime, but it needs to end immediately. The other proposed laws to deal with this ‘problem’ are equally disturbing erosions of people’s freedom.
I’ve spoken with people in special forces and the impression I get is that ‘closing in’ is always a last resort and they do not want to be making arrests. The proof of this can be seen from the amount of projectiles they absorb before taking action. They want to hold them in one location until they lose interest and disperse. Arrest stats do more to promote unrest and perpetuate the image of an authoritarian state than deal with the problem at hand.
There doesn’t need to be more people participating in violence as the current level is sufficient for its purpose – every protest already descends into chaos involving tear gas and guanacos. As for the peaceful protestors – they do it out of a need to be represented and have a voice, but do they believe they are really making a difference? A photo of a carabinero engulfed in flames will make more of an impact than a sign reading ‘Otro Chile es posible’. The goal is change, not awareness. It took the sickening attack on Daniel Zamudio to force a hate crimes bill, not the words of a communist with a nose ring. Again, I find the violence deplorable – these are just my observations.
But I think we reached ‘peak encapuchado’ about six months ago – the number of new youths engaging in acts of vandalism at these marches is in decline and existing malfeasants are no longer attending in the same numbers. Not because it isn’t working, but because after two years the passion has been eroded. I thought the 11th was comparatively peaceful from previous encounters. But being an election year, I won’t be surprised to see a renewed effort on the streets.
I’m in favour of reforms that lead to more affordable access for all Chileans, and equally importantly, a higher quality of graduate. You will never get this under a socialist system – even with the best intentions. I hold the unpopular view that education SHOULD be run like a business. An education system that is for profit is the best way to drive innovation and competition. It doesn’t need to mean there are cracks that cause the bottom percentile to be neglected. What the current system lacks is a determination to become world class – this is an unfortunate cultural trait found in many aspects of Chilean society. But as the world is becoming more open they are seeing that they have been poorly served for decades and the demand for higher quality has now begun. This is the real progress and why I have hope for positive change in the next 10 years.
Sorry about the even longer rant! I’m on a five hour bus trip and this has served to pass the time nicely. I’ll calm down once I can see the ocean.
You must not be in Chile right now, else how could you be five hours from the ocean!
Puerto Varas -> Castro. But you’re right, there were ocean vistas along the way!
Hope it’s a good trip. I love it when the gorse is blooming yellow, but not sure about this time of year. Hope it’s for fun and entertainment!
From various sources that I read, the march was pretty peaceful until the end and those infamous encapuchados were really only about 10% or less of the protest. But it’s ALL the television shows. Hmmm.
That is precisely my point. Nobody wants to see pictures of happy kids headed towards a peaceful protest. What’s the fun in that. Except for the part where Christian Science Monitor tweeted this blog post. Which makes me like them even more!