SANTIAGO – During a march of Apruebo supporters on Friday, Sep. 4, 28 people were arrested. A day later, police officers escorted a Rechazo march in Las Condes. The different handling of the two serves the Apruebo campaign.
“Chile Despertó” (“Chile Woke Up”) was a key slogan during the protests that started in October 2019. After years of abuse, whether on the job, at university, after retirement, in politics, or elsewhere, people had had enough.
Different reasons came together for a united goal: to change Chile and make it more equal. A referendum this October will decide if Chile gets a new Constitution – according to many the framework of Chilean inequality. As campaigns kicked off last week, tensions grew, with the Apruebo (“Approve”) campaign arguing that a new, fresh start is entwined with writing a new Constitution while the Rechazo (“Reject”) campaign argues that the current Constitution is fine as is, and that any necessary reforms can be made within the existing Carta Magna.
Events in the last couple of days have shown that profound reforms are necessary to make an end to the unequal treatment of different groups of Chileans by the authorities. On Friday, on the 50th anniversary of the victory of the Unidad Popular in the 1970 elections, some 400 people gathered on what is now called Plaza de la Dignidad, in the center of Santiago, in the first large demonstration since the quarantine in Santiago was lifted. The large police force present didn’t hesitate in dispersing the crowd, using excessive amounts of tear gas, emptying water cannons filled with chemicals, and arresting 28 protesters part of what was nowhere near an aggressive crowd.
— Magdalena Nemeth (@MaidaNemeth9) September 4, 2020
One might argue that the protesters did not follow coronavirus restrictions, forcing authorities to act. If so, how can it be that one day later the Rechazo supporters’ march in Las Condes, also a group of hundreds, passed unscathed?
The police even escorted the march, walking side by side with the people waving Chilean and American flags. Organizer Raúl Meza, a lawyer who is known for defending convicted human rights violators from the Pinochet era, claimed that the march obtained permission from the army – a claim that was later denied in an official statement by the armed forces. Regardless, here we had hundreds of people gathering, no social distancing, while daily infections continue to top 2,000. Police officers stood by and did nothing.
At the same time, health workers marched in the city center. Health workers in Chile have been fighting for months on the frontlines during a pandemic that has turned Chile into one of the worst hit countries in the world. Several days earlier, they had learned that all police officers in Chile had received a 20 percent raise in salary for their “critical work during the pandemic.” These same police officers, again present in large numbers at the Plaza de la Dignidad, likewise dispersed the health workers’ march, arguing that the demonstration “was not authorized.”
Despite the significant differences in the way Chile’s police handled the Apruebo and Rechazo marches, the unequal treatment is no surprise to those who follow Chilean news. The way people with money, the right name, or the right connections are treated, as compared to the countless unknowns with lower incomes, limited connections, or indigenous sounding-names, has been obvious for decades. Hence, the protests that led to the referendum in October.
No campaign spot tops the way authorities treat these two segments of society differently. If Apruebo supporters want to underline the urgency of ending inequality by rewriting the Constitution, all they have to do is direct people to watch the news.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.