SANTIAGO – Protected by police, carrying firearms and attacking journalists: the Rechazo movement that campaigns against a new Constitution has quickly become the center of controversy in Chile. While authorities in the country are quick to point at violence from protesters during the first months, the pinochetista movement may be a lot more dangerous. Fascism and extreme right-wing violence are globally increasing, and the Chilean government should be cautious.
Although conservative Chileans had earlier held small demonstrations in support of the Chilean government and the country’s constitution, the public manifestations of the Rechazo (“Reject”) movement have increased since campaigning was officially allowed late February. Ever since, the movement has worked hard on becoming one of the most feared, hated, and controversial groups in Chile.
At one of the first demonstrations—always held in upscale Santiago neighborhoods such as Las Condes and Vitacura — footage appeared of attendants carrying firearms and a Confederates Flag. The Confederates Flag was the flag of the southern states in the United States who fought during the Civil War in that country against the abolition of slavery. Ever since, it has become a symbol of extreme right-wing movements across the globe.
— Boris van der Spek (@BorisvanderSpek) February 29, 2020
During another, more recent demonstration, a Chilean journalist was attacked by demonstrators. In response, the Association of Foreign Correspondents released a statement against the attacks.
One of the Rechazo movements’ leaders, a controversial figure called Sebastián Izquierdo, was captured on camera announcing that “all Apruebo [‘Approve’] voters would die.” In yet another demonstration, a woman with ties to First Lady Cecilia Morel was seen screaming that “more protesters would lose their eyes,” in reference to the hundreds of Chileans who suffered eye trauma during the protests in the country.
Also outside their demonstrations, Rechazo supporters are getting increasingly violent. During a public gathering of Communist Party member Daniel Jadue, mayor of Recoleta, two people with links to the movement were arrested as they were planning on launching Molotov cocktails inside the building where the gathering was held. A family, living in one of Santiago’s richest neighborhoods, was detained as they tried to buy an AK-47. One member of the family was known to upload Youtube videos supporting the pinochetista-movement.
Violence seems to have become a trademark of the movement that idolizes dictator Pinochet and his Constitution. An even more worrisome development is that where Chilean police forces are quick to repress public demonstrations from the Apruebo movement, the chants, attacks, and demonstrations from their rival seem to get all the police protection imaginable. During several marches, policemen were seen among those protesting, highlighting the support the movement gets from the institutions. This way, the institutions that should protect all Chileans are deepening the breach in society.
The Rechazo movement’s support reaches beyond the police. Izquierdo, one of the controversial leaders of the movement, shot a video in an office of right-wing party UDI, where he explains how to make weapons to carry during marches. On T13, one of the television channels known for its pro-government stance, Izquierdo was invited to explain more about Rechazo, without receiving any critical questions. During the marches, several former officials of the Chilean army were spotted—although official protocol forbids government officials to take part in public demonstrations. The Rechazo movement, spreading fear and violence, seems to get the support of all the institutions that were so roundly condemned during the first months of the social crisis in Chile.
Apart from the fact that the Rechazo movement can cause even more polarization in Chilean society, authorities should be aware of the ideology behind this movement. In Western countries like the United States, Germany, Italy, and Spain, violent incidents from fascist movements are on the rise. Threatened by immigration and progress, people in these movements radicalize quickly and if institutions in Chile do not respond more strongly to their message of hate, it could only be a matter of time before extremists of the Rechazo movement incite or commit more serious damage.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.