SANTIAGO – To participate in a funa in Chile is to publicly expose someone for an action a group considers unjust or something they believe has gone unpunished by the legal system. For better or worse, these funas have been common in the country for decades. And they have become more important during the current upheaval.
Traditionally, a funa is a march, usually from the accused’s workplace to their home. Protestors carry banners or hand out pamphlets detailing the crimes or negative actions they say the individual committed. A chant every funa includes goes “if there is no justice, there is funa” (Si no hay justicia, hay funa).
The word funa comes from indigenous Mapuche language; in mapudungún it means “rotten.” According to an undergrad thesis by Carol Schmeisser, the arrest of Augusto Pinochet in 1998 popularized the word and associated actions. Families who mourned the forced disappearance of a member during the dictatorship organized vigils, during which they shared stories about their family and encouraged others to do the same.
Because of these protests, organizers began to receive names of those involved in disappearances, which helped mount demands for justice. Increasingly, participants in the funas used the names and information they received, including home addresses and phone numbers, to expose the role certain individuals played in the dictatorship. Back then, the protests were pacifist and adhered to the law to bring about justice.
A funa, Game of Thrones-style:
According to Schmeisser, the first funa took place on October 1, 1991, in a medical center in Santiago. Protestors targeted Alejandro Forero Álvarez, a cardiologist who they accused of providing chemicals to be used to torture, or even kill, political prisoners. Despite ample evidence against the doctor, and having been found guilty of at least one political crime against a communist citizen, the government released him.
In 2018, a funa led to the conviction of Marcos Derpich Miranda, alias “El Gitano.” He was a member of the secret police and aided in the development of a strategy to kill members of left-wing guerilla MIR, which in the 1980s committed to answering the state’s violence with violence. Derpich Miranda received 25 years in prison for his crimes.
The Funa Today
In recent years, funa organizers have used the internet to announce upcoming events and keep the participants up-to-date with judicial proceedings. One recent funa took place against government representative Gabriel Boric after he broke away from his political party to vote for a potential law, which, among other things, criminalized looting and covering faces during protests.
— Tere Marinovic Vial (@tere_marinovic) December 21, 2019
While he was not the only left-winger to vote in favor, he was the only one who did not apologize for his vote. This angered many of his supporters and members of his party, Convergencia Social (CS). In the end, his party suspended him pending an investigation. Critics of the law believe it could hamper freedom of speech and the ability to protest. The funa against him came to a head when he was accosted by protestors on December 21. Many feel conflicted about the actions against Boric and some claim this was not a funa since these are peaceful.
More funas nowadays draw attention to violence against women and to justice for abuse victims. Women began to directly accuse their abusers through the funas and demand social and political action. Although part of the culture, pacifists, right-wing parties, and those accused, question the legitimacy of funas. Yet, funas are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Bethany works as a professional English teacher from the United States. She obtained her Bachelors of Arts in English Education and Masters of Liberal Arts in English from Henderson State University. As well as a life-long Literature and Language lover, Bethany also dabbles in stand-up comedy on the weekends. She currently lives in Santiago, Chile where, in addition to teaching, she organizes bilingual events with The Chistolas, a comedy and event-management group.