Chile: After 2011, Social Struggles and Constituent Process

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An inter­view on the polit­i­cal and social sit­u­a­tion in Chile fol­low­ing the great stu­dent mobi­liza­tion of 2011, con­duct­ed by Giu­lia Willig for the Swiss jour­nal sol­i­dar­itéS.

Giu­lia Willig: Where is the Chilean stu­dent move­ment at today?

Franck Gau­dichaud: His­tor­i­cal­ly, the move­ment of stu­dents in ter­tiary and sec­ondary edu­ca­tion has always been a very sig­nif­i­cant social actor in Chile, includ­ing under the dic­ta­tor­ship. Under “neo-lib­er­al” democ­ra­cy, there has been a recom­po­si­tion of stu­dent strug­gles, cul­mi­nat­ing in 2011 with a mass mobi­liza­tion around the demands for free and high qual­i­ty pub­lic edu­ca­tion. Today, the move­ment is again in a very active strug­gle, with occu­pa­tions of high schools and uni­ver­si­ties, after hav­ing for a while encoun­tered a lit­tle dif­fi­cul­ty in fac­ing the new polit­i­cal sce­nario with the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Bachelet, who con­ced­ed in part some of the major demands, for exam­ple on edu­ca­tion­al reform, but by inte­grat­ing a social-lib­er­al per­spec­tive which does not break with the neo-lib­er­al democ­ra­cy con­struct­ed in the 1990s. After the strug­gles of 2011-2012, which were huge and rad­i­cal, and shook the whole polit­i­cal sys­tem, the last year has been a peri­od of adjust­ment, since the CONFECH (Con­fed­er­a­tion of Stu­dent Unions) has had to face a sce­nario in which the gov­ern­ment pro­posed reforms “from above.” The lead­er­ship of the stu­dent move­ment in part fell into the trap of the “dia­logue” offered by the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion. On the oth­er hand, some lead­ers of the 2011 stu­dent move­ment, like Cami­la Valle­jo (CP) for exam­ple, are in par­lia­ment and/or in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment. This year, we see that the stu­dent unions have resumed a dynam­ic of strug­gle with clear­er ori­en­ta­tions, and since May there have been mas­sive demon­stra­tions of more than one hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing ele­ment is that since some of lead­ers in 2011 have been inte­grat­ed in the par­lia­ment and/or the exec­u­tive, it is the polit­i­cal forces to the left of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty which dom­i­nate the CONFECH, thus they are inde­pen­dent of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment. Among them, the Autonomous Left (Izquier­da autono­ma), the Front of Lib­er­tar­i­an Stu­dents (FEL), the Stu­dent Nation­al Union (UNE) or even small rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions. It is there­fore the left of the left which has weight with­in the CONFECH, which could mean a year of more direct clash­es with Bachelet and her reforms. That said, there are lim­its to this appar­ent “rad­i­cal­ism”: in polit­i­cal terms first, but also in terms of rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness since the rate of absten­tion at stu­dent elec­tions is very high, around 60%.

Ser­gio Grez: the Chilean stu­dent move­ment for free high qual­i­ty pub­lic edu­ca­tion for all has, like all social move­ments, known advances and set­backs. After 2011, it went through a cer­tain reflux, due to the results of the mobi­liza­tions of that year. It had the sen­sa­tion of hav­ing obtained noth­ing as a con­crete result. How­ev­er, the move­ment con­tin­ued force­ful­ly enough in 2012. The year 2013 was calm, in good part because it was an elec­tion year, which is gen­er­al­ly not con­ducive to social move­ments. Then in 2014, Bachelet came to pow­er for the sec­ond time with, it must be empha­sized, only 25% of poten­tial votes, since the rate of absten­tion reached 60%. The new coali­tion in pow­er, the for­mer “Con­certación” renamed as “New major­i­ty” (“Nue­va Mayo­ria”) which the Com­mu­nist Par­ty (CP) is part of, took up, some­what dis­hon­est­ly, some of the slo­gans of the stu­dent move­ment, which nour­ished hopes with­in the social move­ment, espe­cial­ly since the inte­gra­tion of the CP.

If Bachelet’s elec­tion, and Eyzaguirre’s appoint­ment to edu­ca­tion, no doubt gave a breath to the stu­dent move­ment, they were caught in the trap of a dia­logue of the deaf. This does not mean that there were no mobi­liza­tions, but they were few and rel­a­tive­ly weak. The stu­dent move­ment won almost noth­ing in 2014, apart from dero­ga­tion to a decree which made the orga­ni­za­tion of stu­dents more dif­fi­cult. 2015 looks bet­ter: sev­er­al large demon­stra­tions have already tak­en place since of April, demon­stra­tions which were joined by oth­er cit­i­zens, tak­ing advan­tage of this sit­u­a­tion to demon­strate their fun­da­men­tal dis­agree­ment with the pol­i­cy of the gov­ern­ment. On 21 May, 2015 Bachelet made a pres­i­den­tial speech before Con­gress in Val­paraiso, while a mas­sive mobi­liza­tion was tak­ing place in the streets, which was vio­lent­ly sup­pressed. A young girl was seri­ous­ly injured, while anoth­er pro­test­er is today still in a coma. This is rem­i­nis­cent of the police repres­sion of the right wing gov­ern­ment of Piñera, but also that of the first Bachelet gov­ern­ment against the move­ment of “pen­guins” in 2011 (a move­ment of sec­ondary school stu­dents). So the stu­dent move­ment is begin­ning to awake, sev­er­al fac­ul­ties are on strike and mobi­liza­tions are unfold­ing. I think that the stu­dent move­ment is going to set the tone this year, inas­much as it rejects the edu­ca­tion­al reform pro­posed by the gov­ern­ment. It rejects the gov­ern­ment view that free edu­ca­tion is obtained through schol­ar­ships. It demands free edu­ca­tion as a social right guar­an­teed as uni­ver­sal by the state and enshrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion. The mobi­liza­tion of stu­dents is there­fore intrin­si­cal­ly linked to the demand for a change of Con­sti­tu­tion.

Today, the demands of the stu­dent move­ment are broad­er than those relat­ing to edu­ca­tion.

FG: there is not real­ly a break between 2011 and today: the stu­dents con­tin­ue to demand a free high qual­i­ty pub­lic edu­ca­tion, which also amounts to ques­tion­ing the Bachelet reform which does not chal­lenge the edu­ca­tion­al mar­ket, but only intro­duces free edu­ca­tion for stu­dents (ini­tial­ly for 70% of them) by sub­si­diz­ing it still more.

The cur­rent demands also deep­en what has been tried in 2011: to link their spe­cif­ic demands to the whole of soci­ety, by defend­ing for exam­ple the nation­al­iza­tion of nat­ur­al resources and of cop­per, or again a redis­trib­u­tive tax reform, far from the one advo­cat­ed by Bachelet, which spares most of the big boss­es. It is for this rea­son that they call for a uni­fi­ca­tion of social and pop­u­lar strug­gles. There is an as yet timid attempt in this direc­tion with­in the Plat­form for Edu­ca­tion (“Mesa por la edu­cación”), in order to try to obtain the sup­port of the work­ers or of the “pobladores” (the move­ment of the urban poor). It is impor­tant to see also the pres­ence of lec­tur­ers and their demands in the demon­stra­tions. This is an inter­est­ing process, even if we see that it is still dif­fi­cult to set up. It must be remem­bered that we are in a con­text where the CUT, the main trade union fed­er­a­tion, is dom­i­nat­ed by the Chris­t­ian Democ­ra­cy (DC) and the CP, like the lead­er­ship of the Col­lege of Teach­ers, who have no inter­est in cre­at­ing dif­fi­cul­ties for “their” gov­ern­ment. The weak­ness­es or the dis­per­sion of the trade union move­ment are reflect­ed also in the pos­si­bil­i­ties of cre­at­ing a broad­er, “class-based” arc of forces. Nev­er­the­less, there are in the trade union move­ment “class strug­gle” sec­tors which are devel­op­ing, includ­ing recent­ly in the port unions, which clear­ly call for a dynamis­ing of labor-cap­i­tal con­flicts, while sup­port­ing a change in the mod­el of edu­ca­tion, calls for the nation­al­iza­tion of nat­ur­al resources, the end of pen­sions dom­i­nat­ed by pen­sion funds, the right to self-deter­mi­na­tion of the Mapuche peo­ple and so on. The demand which could part­ly fed­er­ate all of these sec­tors is the demand for a con­stituent assem­bly, pop­u­lar and demo­c­ra­t­ic, but the road is still long.

SG: Since 2011, the stu­dent move­ment has man­aged to high­light the theme of edu­ca­tion, which is already a great step for­ward. Until the begin­ning of 2011, nobody in Chile dared treat edu­ca­tion as a key polit­i­cal top­ic. Thanks to the mobi­liza­tion, in a few months, this sit­u­a­tion changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly. Today, the whole world, from far left to far right, agrees that it is a fun­da­men­tal theme. At the same time, the stu­dent move­ment has man­aged to bring to the fore oth­er ques­tions about the issue of financ­ing edu­ca­tion. They have advanced very con­crete pro­pos­als devel­oped in a respon­si­ble man­ner, in par­tic­u­lar the draft tax reform and the nation­al­iza­tion of cop­per. Some sec­tors are now demand­ing a con­stituent assem­bly. That said, from a prac­ti­cal point of view, it must be rec­og­nized that since 2011 there has been no notable advances in the con­struc­tion of links between social move­ments. There have been attempts by the stu­dent move­ment to go to oth­er social move­ments, for exam­ple the Mapuch­es, the move­ment of teach­ers, of course, and some­times some strug­gles of work­ers, for exam­ple in the ports. But in my opin­ion, these rela­tions are still weak, there are no sta­ble, organ­ic and per­ma­nent bonds between these social move­ments: it is some­thing which must be fur­ther devel­oped.

What are the oth­er social move­ments?

SG: Among the most sig­nif­i­cant move­ments cur­rent­ly, there is first the Mapuche, which is not strict­ly social since it con­tains a nation­al polit­i­cal demand, for auton­o­my and the recon­quest of cer­tain rights which have been denied, in par­tic­u­lar the right to land and polit­i­cal rights. There is also a fair­ly strong move­ment against the cen­tral­ism of the state. The move­ment of work­ers in the ports is very inter­est­ing. In Chile, the sea has been pri­va­tized; it belongs to sev­en major eco­nom­ic groups, while only small por­tions of the coast­line have been left to arti­sanal fish­ers. The move­ment has orga­nized for a few years around the port unions, which do not have legal sta­tus but involve unions who do. They con­duct­ed very sig­nif­i­cant strikes and mobi­liza­tions in 2014. It is a remark­able move­ment, because from a polit­i­cal point of view, it is able to threat­en the inter­ests of the large exporters (fruit, wood). But also because it was able to mobi­lize the work­ers all along the coast, in sol­i­dar­i­ty with work­ers in the port of Mejil­lones, who asked to have an hour for their lunch instead of the cur­rent 30 min­utes. Almost all the work­ers in the ports mobi­lized to sup­port them. It is a move­ment that has revived the tra­di­tions of sol­i­dar­i­ty among work­ers, bro­ken by the dic­ta­tor­ship, and in gen­er­al by the neo-lib­er­al mod­el of cur­rent democ­ra­cy.

What is the cur­rent state of the forces of the rad­i­cal left?

FG: first of all, it must be said that the cur­rent state – as yet frag­ile - of class strug­gles is a first lim­it to the recov­ery of the polit­i­cal forces of the anti-cap­i­tal­ist left, which remain very scat­tered and divid­ed. In this con­text, it is dif­fi­cult to envis­age a “cold” uni­fi­ca­tion of the rad­i­cal or rev­o­lu­tion­ary lefts, whose con­tours remain to be defined. For exam­ple, if we talk about the stu­dent move­ment, there have been attempts, like the “Bloc de con­duc­ción” which brought togeth­er the Autonomous Left (“Izquier­da Autono­ma”), the Stu­dent Nation­al Union (UNE) and the Front of Lib­er­tar­i­an Stu­dents (FEL). Togeth­er, they had a rel­a­tive hege­mo­ny on the lead­er­ship of the stu­dent move­ment.  But this front – you might call it “broad anti neo-lib­er­al”- broke up a few months ago, lack­ing inter­nal coher­ence. More gen­er­al­ly, uni­fi­ca­tion is also dif­fi­cult between many small groups or rev­o­lu­tion­ary col­lec­tives, from var­i­ous polit­i­cal cul­tures which have an often lim­it­ed influ­ence on this or that sec­tor. These forces are still very much in the minor­i­ty, but some have grown since 2011, boost­ed by the renew­al of the social strug­gles.

The ques­tion is how to devel­op, today in Chile, an anti-cap­i­tal­ist and pro-self man­age­ment left, not dog­mat­ic or sec­tar­i­an or elec­tion­eer­ing or oppor­tunis­tic, able to debate a polit­i­cal pro­gram of clear rup­ture, of tran­si­tion, but also help­ing in the short term to devel­op the uni­tary action, on the social and polit­i­cal front, which is use­ful for strength­en­ing pop­u­lar move­ments.  Cru­cial strate­gic issues are con­tro­ver­sial: how to face up to the new polit­i­cal cycle marked by the “trans­formism” of the Bachelet gov­ern­ment, in an anti-cap­i­tal­ist per­spec­tive? But also, who are the “sub­jects” of the social trans­for­ma­tion for which we are fight­ing in Chile cur­rent­ly? What place for the par­ty form? The rad­i­cal or rev­o­lu­tion­ary Chilean lefts have some­times found it hard to inte­grate top­ics such as ecol­o­gy or eco-social­ism, fem­i­nism, or to car­ry out a con­crete inter­na­tion­al­ist work, which ham­pers its strate­gic devel­op­ment. If you want to sum­ma­rize in broad brush strokes, the land­scape of these left polit­i­cal forces is still very frag­ment­ed, there are orga­ni­za­tions which come from what may be called the “new miris­mo” (from the name of the MIR, the main rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion of the Allende era) and which stretch from anti-neolib­er­als to Gue­varist forces; a very broad lib­er­tar­i­an cur­rent, rang­ing from “pure” anar­chists to lib­er­tar­i­an activists advo­cat­ing a “demo­c­ra­t­ic rup­ture” includ­ing elec­toral work; there are also all the forces that come from var­i­ous splits with­in the Com­mu­nist move­ment and “Rodrigu­is­mo” (from the name of the Frente Patri­oti­co Manuel Rodriguez); and final­ly a Trot­sky­ist cur­rent, derived more or less from “Morenis­mo” with some pres­ence.

SG: there is, in my opin­ion, exces­sive frag­men­ta­tion. In Chile, we have a left which is more social than polit­i­cal. Of course, behind the social left, there are more or less broad polit­i­cal for­ma­tions, but they are very scat­tered and do not have the abil­i­ty to agree, even where there are con­ver­gences of sub­stance on a good num­ber of issues. The elec­tions of 2013 are a good exam­ple of this: there were four “left” or pro­gres­sive pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tions out of a total of nine, all defend­ed the Con­stituent Assem­bly, but they were not able to unite. Each group pushed for­ward its own inter­ests. The rad­i­cal left is not capa­ble of look­ing at things with a lit­tle more height, fore­sight and gen­eros­i­ty.

What analy­sis can be made of the Bachelet gov­ern­ment?

FG: the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bachelet is a social lib­er­al coali­tion gov­ern­ment which goes from the cen­ter-right (with the Chris­t­ian Democ­rats) to the CP and which is part of the frame­work of the neo-lib­er­al semi-author­i­tar­i­an cap­i­tal­ist mod­el installed at the end of the dic­ta­tor­ship. I have spo­ken in this respect of a “social lib­er­al trans­formism.”1 In a way, the exec­u­tive responds to the strug­gles and to 2011 by attempt­ing to sta­bi­lize this mod­el by par­tial reforms. This is a point of direct con­tro­ver­sy with the analy­ses of the CP. Today, the gov­ern­ment must face a legit­i­ma­cy cri­sis unprece­dent­ed since 1990, with repeat­ed huge cas­es of cor­rup­tion which have affect­ed the entire polit­i­cal world in the last few months. This has revealed the lev­el of inte­gra­tion between the big com­pa­nies, cap­i­tal and the whole of the polit­i­cal elite. All have received mon­ey from the major groups like Pen­ta, Soquimich, pri­va­tized enter­pris­es or cre­at­ed dur­ing the dic­ta­tor­ship. How­ev­er, the response of Bachelet has essen­tial­ly con­sist­ed of a change of cab­i­net, giv­ing it an even more con­ser­v­a­tive tilt than before:   we have wit­nessed the return of the old cadres of the Con­certación (a cen­trist coali­tion born at the end of the dic­ta­tor­ship, the ances­tor of the cur­rent “Nue­va Mayo­ria-cam­bio”) to key posi­tions of gov­ern­ment pow­er. Many soci­ol­o­gists have con­sid­ered the gov­ern­ment of Bachelet as a sign of an open­ing, a cer­tain renew­al. If a new polit­i­cal cycle has been gen­er­at­ed – from below - by the social strug­gles, there is con­ti­nu­ity at the top. More­over, the employ­ers and the “Mer­cu­rio” (the main dai­ly news­pa­per, right­ist and a for­mer sup­port­er of Pinochet) are not fooled; they inces­sant­ly praise the Prime Min­is­ter, as well as the Min­is­ter for the Econ­o­my and the Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or.

This explains why Bachelet made almost no announce­ment in her pres­i­den­tial speech on last May 21st. Every­one has not­ed that she did not men­tion a con­stituent assem­bly, which con­firms what we already knew, name­ly that there will indeed be a  “new Con­sti­tu­tion” which will still be the one intro­duced by Pinochet in 1981, but with­out a Con­stituent Assem­bly. There will prob­a­bly be “cit­i­zen con­sul­ta­tions,” but the bulk of the work will be done in the closed cab­i­net of the par­lia­ment, before being even­tu­al­ly sub­ject­ed to a plebiscite. For the rest, the worst points are con­firmed, on labor reform for exam­ple, which has been denounced, includ­ing now part­ly by the CUT. In the field of edu­ca­tion, the goal is to reach 60% of free edu­ca­tion by 2018, but still in the con­text of the mar­ket. There­fore, it is the state which will sub­si­dize this pri­vate ser­vice which, ini­tial­ly, will exclude stu­dents from pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties, which is prob­lem­at­ic since that is where para­dox­i­cal­ly we find the most stu­dents, and often the poor­est.

SG: That is a reformist gov­ern­ment which is intend­ed to cor­rect cer­tain aspects of the neolib­er­al sys­tem to give it a broad­er and more sta­ble social and polit­i­cal base. If we ana­lyze each of the reforms, whether in edu­ca­tion, tax­a­tion, employ­ment, the pen­sion sys­tem or health, they are about small changes which do not seek to break fun­da­men­tal­ly with the cur­rent mod­el. Of course, there has been an increase in social spend­ing since the end of the dic­ta­tor­ship, but this expen­di­ture often final­ly ben­e­fits the cap­i­tal­ists. In the case of edu­ca­tion, for exam­ple, the gov­ern­ment pro­pos­es to increase schol­ar­ships, with which the stu­dents can then make their choice on the edu­ca­tion mar­ket. This is to sub­si­dize demand. Today, the state pro­vides only 10-15% of their needs to pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, where­as under Allende, the pub­lic share amount­ed to 80%! It is the same thing for health: as the pub­lic hos­pi­tals can­not meet all needs, we give sub­si­dies to patients to seek treat­ment in pri­vate clin­ics. Final­ly, it increas­es the prof­its of the pri­vate insti­tu­tions and weak­ens the pub­lic sec­tor. That is the neo-lib­er­al mod­el, and in that sense, the gov­ern­ment of Bachelet does not dif­fer from the right. Con­cern­ing the pen­sion sys­tem inher­it­ed from the dic­ta­tor­ship, this is not a social secu­ri­ty sys­tem, but pri­vate insur­ance based on indi­vid­ual cap­i­tal­iza­tion. There is no sol­i­dar­i­ty-based redis­tri­b­u­tion. How­ev­er, what Bachelet pro­pos­es is that the state frames this sys­tem in order to guar­an­tee bet­ter ser­vices!

But it will change noth­ing on the ground. On the con­trary, we should give the mon­ey to the work­ers, and cre­ate a pen­sion sys­tem by dis­tri­b­u­tion, just and inclu­sive. The right has also under­stood that it has not much to fear from the Bachelet gov­ern­ment. Its rep­re­sen­ta­tives were opposed to cer­tain things, but in the back­ground, they sup­port the pol­i­cy it pur­sues. In real­i­ty, the clas­sic right is under­go­ing a deep cri­sis, not only because of repeat­ed cor­rup­tion scan­dals, but also and espe­cial­ly because the “Nue­va Mayo­ria-cam­bio” is steal­ing its role of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the rul­ing class­es.

Franck, what is the posi­tion of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty, inte­grat­ed into the gov­ern­ment, but con­tin­u­ing to have a strong pres­ence in social move­ments?

FG: Its posi­tion is fair­ly com­plex. It is the most dis­ci­plined par­ty in the gov­ern­ment coali­tion, which applies the deci­sions and sup­ports Bachelet what­ev­er hap­pens, more clear­ly than the DC or the Social­ist Par­ty (PS), who have pub­licly expressed their crit­i­cism. More­over, the CP has been reward­ed for that in the new cab­i­net, because it got two min­istries. Yet, there is no orga­nized dis­sent - which the par­ty does not tol­er­ate - but mut­ed crit­i­cism at the rank and file lev­el, includ­ing the com­mu­nal frame­works, of the neo-lib­er­al ori­en­ta­tion of the coali­tion. For exam­ple, on the labor reform, con­sid­ered very prob­lem­at­ic, or on the con­stituent assem­bly, whose con­ven­ing is post­poned to the dis­tant future, and so on. Fig­ures like Cami­la Valle­jo, who had a cer­tain degree of auton­o­my in speech, approved the pres­i­den­tial speech with­out bat­ting an eye­lash, except the regret that there is no con­stituent assem­bly. The CP’s gam­ble is to con­tin­ue this return to the gov­ern­ment, with the idea that the ongo­ing reforms are a first step. Hence the sub­stan­tive debate: is this a first step toward an ini­tial democ­ra­ti­za­tion of neo-lib­er­al­ism, as the CP main­tains, or on the con­trary an attempt to sta­bi­lize the sys­tem inher­it­ed from Pinochet threat­ened by the recom­po­si­tion of the social strug­gles, as the rad­i­cal left sees it? Final­ly, the bureau­crat­ic inte­gra­tion of the CP is very impor­tant, since it holds numer­ous senior man­age­ment posi­tions in the state appa­ra­tus, but also the vice-pres­i­den­cy of the Nation­al Assem­bly.

In addi­tion, it ben­e­fits, includ­ing finan­cial­ly, from its par­tic­i­pa­tion in pow­er, which has con­sol­i­dat­ed it as an insti­tu­tion­al par­ty. There­fore, any rup­ture would be all the more dif­fi­cult. On the oth­er hand, the CP is still an actor in the social move­ment, with a real capac­i­ty for orga­ni­za­tion in some pop­u­lar sec­tors. The Com­mu­nist Youth have a strong pres­ence in the stu­dent and sec­ondary school stu­dent move­ment; a part of the trade union move­ment is under the influ­ence of Com­mu­nist lead­ers (the cop­per min­ing sec­tor for exam­ple), the par­ty holds the pres­i­den­cy of the CUT and the Col­lege of Teach­ers. In fact, they say that the CP is the main social force of the gov­ern­ment, the only one capa­ble of attempt­ing to chan­nel the pop­u­lar move­ment. That does not pre­vent it from call­ing mobi­liza­tions, but they are in favor of the gov­ern­ment and its reforms.

The repres­sion of mobi­liza­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly of stu­dents, appears to be accen­tu­at­ing late­ly. Two young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar were bru­tal­ly attacked by the secu­ri­ty forces dur­ing a demon­stra­tion.

FG: The cli­mate is get­ting tenser, repres­sive prac­tices are pro­lif­er­at­ing. This did not begin with Bachelet of course; this is a recur­ring his­tor­i­cal prob­lem and a state prac­tice. But with regard to the recent vio­lence against stu­dents, with one young activist still between life and death, there is a direct respon­si­bil­i­ty of the gov­ern­ment, the police and the Min­is­ter of the inte­ri­or. This is also the case in the south of the coun­try against the Mapuch­es. In this regard, recent­ly an under­cov­er police offi­cer was rec­og­nized before a court as hav­ing car­ried out arson, in the frame­work of activ­i­ties dic­tat­ed by the secret ser­vices. A young Mapuche, wrong­ly accused, has spent 11 months in prison, and that is only the tip of the ice­berg: the prac­tices of police infil­tra­tion, provo­ca­tion and vio­lent repres­sion are almost dai­ly in the entire space of the social strug­gles and con­sti­tute again a heavy author­i­tar­i­an lega­cy renewed by the civil­ian gov­ern­ment.

SG: The gov­ern­ment, what­ev­er it may be, that of Piñera or Bachelet, plays the game of the car­rot and the stick. On one side it pun­ish­es, and on the oth­er, it launch­es appeals for dia­logue. The present gov­ern­ment is a spe­cial­ist in “plat­forms for dia­logue” on many sub­jects. Its strat­e­gy is to talk at length, with­out actu­al­ly lead­ing to con­crete things. And some­times it gives small con­ces­sions, espe­cial­ly now, with the stu­dent move­ment, where it has in any case a fifth col­umn formed by Com­mu­nist activists. This did not exist at the time of Piñera, when the CP was clear­ly part of the oppo­si­tion. Cami­la Valle­jo, for­mer leader of the stu­dent move­ment, today Com­mu­nist deputy, has clear­ly said: “we will have one foot in the street, the oth­er in the gov­ern­ment.” How­ev­er, we see some of the con­tra­dic­tions today: you can­not at the same time be on the side of the stu­dents and the gov­ern­ment which repress­es them. Who is the Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or that Bachelet has just appoint­ed in her new cab­i­net? It is Bur­gos, a Chris­t­ian Demo­c­rat, who was one of the heads of the “Ofic­i­na” in 1990. This was the secret ser­vice cre­at­ed by the Con­certación to dis­man­tle the left oppo­si­tion which had tak­en up arms dur­ing the dic­ta­tor­ship, and which had refused to give them up at the time of the tran­si­tion, not trust­ing the new democ­ra­cy. These groups were infil­trat­ed by their for­mer com­rades, notably under the orders of Bur­gos.

What more can be said on the reform of the Con­sti­tu­tion?

SG: Chile has already ini­ti­at­ed a con­stituent process, but the stakes are cur­rent­ly focused on how to con­duct this reform. There are two ways to do so: to elab­o­rate a con­sti­tu­tion through a com­mis­sion appoint­ed by the gov­ern­ment, to have it approved by par­lia­ment, and final­ly to vote, en bloc, in a pop­u­lar plebiscite. The oth­er way is to elect a con­stituent assem­bly. It would be a free and sov­er­eign body, whose work would be lim­it­ed in time, and which would rep­re­sent the peo­ple much more demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly. Accord­ing to recent sur­veys of opin­ion, 60% of Chileans would be favor­able to such a process. The prob­lem is that today there is no legal insti­tu­tion­al frame­work which would make it pos­si­ble to estab­lish a con­stituent assem­bly. So a sub­terfuge is need­ed, and that can only be done with strong social and polit­i­cal pres­sure from below. Since 2011, the slo­gan in favor of a Con­stituent Assem­bly has met with a grow­ing sup­port in the pop­u­la­tion. Cur­rent­ly, we are orga­niz­ing a “school of con­stituents,” which is designed to train cadres to explain this idea to peo­ple, to show that it is the place where their inter­ests could be defend­ed. We are also think­ing about the means to con­duct such a process. The idea would be for exam­ple to intro­duce a quo­rum of two-thirds to vote through a con­sti­tu­tion­al change, and if this quo­rum is not reached, to pro­ceed to votes on spe­cif­ic sub­jects, instead of tak­ing a deci­sion only on a final pack­age. This would ensure a gen­uine demo­c­ra­t­ic par­tic­i­pa­tion the widest pos­si­ble, accord­ing to the old slo­gan of the time of Pop­u­lar Uni­ty: “crear poder pop­u­lar” (“cre­ate pop­u­lar pow­er”).

–This co-pub­lished inter­view was trans­lat­ed by Inter­na­tion­al View­point.


  1. Franck Gau­dichaud, “Las fig­uras del neolib­er­al­is­mo maduro chileno: Tra­ba­jo, ‘Democ­ra­cia pro­te­gi­da,’ y con­flic­tos de clases,” CLASCO, April 2015. 

Authors of the article

is a lecturer in Latin American Civilization at the University of Grenoble and a visiting researcher at the University of Chile.

is a professor of history at the University of Chile, Santiago.