SANTIAGO – At least 329 public statues and monuments have been damaged during the three months of civil unrest in Chile. Painted, vandalized, and even pulled down, the protesters in Chile are rejecting a history from which they feel detached. Instead, they are writing themselves a new identity of acceptance and equality.
According to the Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales, the majority of public property damage is located in Santiago and the Valparaíso region where protesters have been most active, with 24 statues recorded as completely destroyed. In some cases, these monuments have been replaced with alternative figures, such as the indigenous Milanka sculpture in La Serena which replaced the Spanish conqueror Francisco de Aguirre as a celebration of the Diaguita culture. It is acts like this that reveal how Chile is a nation with a torn identity; rich and poor, indigenous and colonial, gay and straight. Just as the historical emblems of Chile’s past now wear new faces, so might the identity of the nation itself take on a different meaning.
First they broke them, then they built them
In Parque Forestal, next to Plaza Italia, not a single statue has survived the protests unscathed. All now wear a new face, with many having had their eyes painted red as a recognition of the more than 350 people who have suffered eye wounds from the use of rubber bullets by the police. In an interview with El País, Luis Montes Rojas, a Professor of Sculpture at the Universidad de Chile, reflects that “the statues have been used as a way to show the conflict of the country.” The protesters are defacing the statues because they do not feel any connection to that version of Chile. It is a demonstration of the disaffection and alienation felt by the people.
When protesters failed to bring down the statue of General Manuel Baqueadano in the center of Plaza Italia, now dubbed Plaza de la Dignidad, they instead chose to redesign it, creating their own statue of what they believe Chile should be. General Manuel Baqueadano was an army General in the 1800s who led the Malleco and Renaico conquests against the Mapuche people in the south of Chile. As a symbol of Chile’s colonial past, General Baqueadano represents everything that is wrong with Chile to the protesters; the social and racial divide, the violence and intolerance. This colonial figure now wears a new uniform of LGBT colors, and a Mapuche flag waves defiantly overhead. From conqueror to flag-bearer, the protesters have created their own symbol of Chile, one which incites acceptance and equality for all.
Freedom of Speech
Not everyone appreciates these alterations. The government has recently signed a protocol to begin the repair of the 881 damaged monuments and public spaces throughout the country. Consuelo Valdes, the Minister for Culture, acknowledges that while everyone has a right to discuss heritage and culture, it must be done in a way that is “open, democratic, and respectful.” The rewriting of Chilean patrimony in the past three months demonstrates that national identity is symbolic, fluctuating, and even personal. For this reason, many argue that defacing these statues is undemocratic as it is enforcing one view on everyone, regardless of what that view is.
The Museum of Fine Arts has openly questioned this issue through its Contra la Razon exposition, asking for people’s opinion on the graffiti which now adorns the walls of the building. While many have lamented the loss of the building’s impressive beauty, the overwhelming voice is one of celebration, with comments from people of all nationalities showing their support through the exposition. Similarly, the Teatro UC in Nuñoa Plaza rejected calls from the council to paint over the Matapacos on the theater’s walls, defending the voice of the people and refusing to remove it. Santiago is now, more than ever, a city of graffiti. Every street reminds passersby of the troubled past few months with slogans and witty wordplay jumping out from the walls. The voice of the people has found a new way to be heard, and these acts of graffiti and the defacing of Chile’s monuments have become one of the main fronts of the protests. It is an expression of dissatisfaction with Chile’s past and present motives, and the inequality and racial prejudice that still exists in the country. Until these issues are addressed, the sun will not set on the Mapuche flag that stands above the rainbow General.
Katie is a student from Exeter University where she is studying English Literature and Spanish. This year she is interning with Chile Today as part of her year abroad in Latin America. She believes in the importance of a global newsroom which spreads the news of the world to every corner and gives voice to the people.