Forgotten are the root causes of the social uprising three years ago. Violence, not collective peaceful action, is emphasized in the media, while turncoat intellectuals indulge in opportunism. We are witnessing the beginning of a new cycle that repeats old mistakes.
Amnesia has gripped Chile, ordinary citizens and elites alike. On the third anniversary of the social outbreak and the march of millions in Santiago, it is hard to understand what has happened in such a short time.
The uprising triggered a process that led to the election of a convention to draft a new Constitution but seems to have been erased from memory or reduced to lamentable violence by a small group of anarchists who do not answer to anyone.
Local media are recalling the looting and barricades, interspersed with current crime. Some intellectuals, including the dean of an important university, state they opposed the uprising, despite supportive comments at the time. Right-wingers claim there is nothing to celebrate, and the government, elected on the wave of social demands articulated during the protests, and other politicians nowadays disown their 2019 statements.
It is as if no one took peacefully to the streets, waving banners calling for equality, better pensions, health and education, an end to collusion and more distribution. It also seems that our politicians forgot the march of millions on Oct. 25, to which added others across all regions, where only the flags of first nations (Mapuche, Aymara, Rapanui, among others) were allowed to be waved, and in which entire families took part to demand change.
Even then President Sebastián Piñera adhered to the demands. But our elites forgot it or seem to want to forget it. Amnesia is a constant throughout Chilean political history. Are we so bad as a society that, from time to time, we forget everything, leaving room for cycles to repeat over and over again?
Wiping the Slate
Last week, a candidate to head a student union said the social uprising was worse than the 1973 coup that led to a 17-year dictatorship, 3,000 disappeared, tortured and exiled citizens, 10 years of curfew, lack of freedom, closure of Congress, and many more tragedies.
The Sept. 4 plebiscite, when the constitutional proposal was overwhelmingly rejected, also created a sensation that gave reactionary forces momentum. It is likely that amnesia will extend to the coup d’état. This sudden loss of memory is serious and threatens to condemn us eternally.
I believe most Chileans see that violence took over legitimate social protest and that we all strongly reject it. No more looters and destroyers. They are simply criminals, period. It is the responsibility of the State – government, police, the justice system – to act energetically.
But it is different to associate the massive peaceful mobilizations and legitimate popular demands from 2019 with the violence a few, who otherwise express their anomic behaviors in stadiums or so.
No One Saw it Coming
In recent weeks, we witnessed the gaping distance between the political class and the citizenry. They forgot that citizens – and not criminals – demanded a change of Constitution, and approved of the cross-party agreement of Nov. 15, 2019, that forced Piñera to call a plebiscite to replace the Magna Carta imposed during the dictatorship. They also forgot the social demands. According to a recent survey, 83% of respondents consider these still not being met.
And political amnesia seems to be intensifying. The political class forgot that protesters did not accept any party flags, that in the election for the constitutional convention established parties were practically wiped out, and that today they are the least popular institutions. They also forgot that voters in the entry plebiscite strongly rejected any involvement of parliamentarians in the drafting process.
Over a month has passed without parties and lawmakers agreeing on a way forward regarding a new Constitution. What will Chileans think of this? The only thing that seems certain is that politicians agree that the Senate will have the final word on anything a possible convention may decide. Senators may change any point before a plebiscite is scheduled. Yes, you read that right.
Tensions seem to rise in society again already, because of unmet social demands, rising crime, and the migration crisis, government mismanagement – still also dragged down by two previous administrations – and inflation, which is a global problem.
Undoubtedly, when this new social outburst happens, Chilean politicians will again be flabbergasted and repeat their slogan: “We did not see it coming … again.” We will also listen to the usual intellectuals, lecturing from universities, this time to argue for the opposite of what they wrote their previous book on. For now, we will continue to listen to their opportunistic narratives, their misreading of the country, their provocative tweets, and their inability to agree. It’s output of minds without memories.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.