History of Chile

From France to Chile: the History of the Cacerolazo

During the October 2019 protests, many people banged pots to show their discontent with the Chilean government. Similarly, in 1971, Chilean women began this tradition to show their discontent of the socialist government of Salvador Allende. Chile Today takes a look at the history of the cacerolazo in Chile.

In October 2019, many of those protesting would take to the streets with pots and bang them with wooden spoons in support of the marches. At night, people also went to their balconies and windows and continued banging the pots to show their continuous support of the social movements and their discontent with the Piñera administration’s handling of the conflict.

This form of protests is locally known as the cacerolazo, which has been prominent in Chilean protests since the 1971 marches against the socialist government of Salvador Allende, when Chilean women banged empty pots to emphasize the scarcity of food during this time. Since then, cacerolazos have taken place in numerous countries in South America, most notably in the 1980s when people protested the numerous dictatorial regimes that covered the continent.

Chile Today takes a look at the tradition of the cacerolazos in Chile and how they spread to and across the continent.

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Origin and First Chilean Cacerolazo

The first recorded cacerolazo was in France in 1830, when supporters of the French Republic banged their pots in protests against the July monarchy and the restoration of the French crown.

The idea to create as much noise as possible came from the medieval tradition of charivari, in which a mock parade was held to humiliate someone for their immoral actions. Supporters of the French Republic proposed the idea to “humiliate” the new French government by holding multiple charivari in different spots of the city at night. This lasted until the fall of the new monarchy in 1848.

This type of protests was not seen again until 1961 in Algeria, when those who opposed the Algerian War of Independence banged pots, blew whistles, and shouted their support for French Algeria. These became known as “The Nights of the Pans.”

After the events in Algeria, the cacerolazos became an exclusively South American tradition – in response to the numerous dictatorships that took hold of the area.

From Right to Left

Its first appearance on the continent was in Santiago, Chile, on Dec. 2, 1971, during the “March of the Empty Casseroles.” Led by right-wing female activists who aimed to show their discontent with the Allende government and highlight the lack of food by marching with empty pots which they banged to make noise.

After the Sep. 11, 1973 military coup brought an end to Allende’s presidency, the cacerolazos switched from the political right to left, and were subsequently used to show the people’s discontent with the Agusto Pinochet dictatorship. This highlights one of the important aspects of the cacerolazo: its political neutrality – governments throughout the political spectrum have been the target of cacerolazos.

The first nationwide cacerolazo in Chile was on May 11, 1983, when a planned protest was canceled for fear of violence from the armed forces. That night, the authorities placed a mandatory curfew, forcing many to stay home. Since they couldn’t go out to the street, protesters began banging their pots from their windows to protest without breaking curfew. 

This was the first of many cacerolazos that took place during the Pinochet regime. This form of protest quickly spread across the country and to the rest of the continent with similar cacerolazos popping up in Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Current Uses

After the return to democracy in 1990, the cacerolazos were silent for many years until the 2011 student protests, when Camila Vallejo, then president of the Student Federation of Universidad de Chile, asked citizens to bang their pots and pans in support of the student movement and against the government’s violent repression of the protests.

In 2016, the movement “No + AFP,” which seeks to bring an end to the current pension system in Chile, called a cacerolazo for Aug. 10, which was heard throughout the capital and the country. Two years later, Chileans would once again protest with their pots and pans to demand justice against those responsible for the death of Camilo Catrillanca, a Mapuche who was murdered by police while on his tractor.

In 2019, people banged their pots during the national teachers strike in June, to show their support. Then, during the October protests, many protested the curfew and the military presence by participating in cacerolazos.

Now, the cacerolazos have come full circle and are being used to protest the hunger that many low-income workers are suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic and to convey their anger about the government’s response to the situation.

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