By Mauricio Rojas

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


I have lived these days in a state of madness like the great majority of my compatriots: with bewilderment, impotence and astonishment at what has happened and, no less, at the description of those who have tried to legitimize and have even called to join in illegality and the use of force as a legitimate form of protest. Those calls, coming from the Communist Party and from prominent figures of Frente Amplio, were decisive detonators of the chaos.

And my astonishment does not cease to grow when I see how today demonstrations and strikes continue to be called – a general strike since Wednesday is the threat of the unions dominated by the Communist Party and other radical forces – in a situation as chaotic and threatening as the one we live in. Any responsible political and social force should at this moment call for calm and not add fuel to the fire. But unfortunately that is not the case.

And the saddest thing of all is that in the midst of all this I have a painful feeling of déjà vu, because I once saw how Chile was derailed by the path of polarization and confrontation. Could it be possible for this long strip of land located between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean to stumble twice on the same stone?

What must be made clear is the minority and very violent character of what has happened so far. Last Friday’s spectacle in Santiago was impressive: limited groups, but very determined and violent, sowing chaos and people walking peacefully towards their homes, not joining the protests or the outrages, but suffering them in their own flesh.

This is not a “social outburst,” as some insist on saying, but rather the high-impact actions of different groups with very diverse ends, but who opportunistically join forces. Nothing positive unites them, only a negative will to oppose something. And this is what those who demonstrate peacefully should think: they are feeding a fire that many others will stoke and where we can all end up burned.

Most worrying of all has been, at times, the sense of loss of control, the sign that the rule of law and the monopoly on the use of force have collapsed. This is what invites criminals and mobs to plunder and vandalism, but also neighbors to protect themselves with sticks or whatever in the hundreds of citizen self-defense groups that have been formed in Santiago and other Chilean cities. In this way, society is quickly transformed into a jungle.

The government’s ability to deal with this situation is limited. Especially when various forces try to take advantage of the chaos and complex situation to promote their own causes, in a kind of generalized blackmail. It is a highly irresponsible action, aggravating the crisis when Chile’s cities are still on fire.

The government has done, fundamentally, what it had and could do. That doesn’t mean that it’s enough or that everything has been done right. Declaring a state of emergency, mobilizing the armed forces and imposing curfews at night was fundamental. Stopping the rise of the collective locomotion passages in Santiago was a good step, but unfortunately it was of little use, since those who propel the spiral of protest and violence never had the 30 pesos of the rise – from 800 to 830 pesos – in their sights but, let’s put it frankly, to depose the government. Because that’s what it’s all about.

Rather than failing, the government has been overwhelmed by a situation that nobody, not even its most delirious promoters, foresaw. When that happens it is very difficult to find coherent and effective solutions. The priority task today is to restore order, no doubt. But this will not be easy and it will have a cost that few governments want to pay and that the extremists, together with the opportunist left, are going to use no more than power. At the same time, it is essential to seek agreement with all those political and social forces genuinely willing to stop the escalation of polarization, confrontation and violence. It is time to innovate because the situation is very serious and because the future of Chile must be above political flags.

I am convinced that this serious crisis will redefine the fundamental coordinates of Chilean politics, and I believe that this can, if taken with courage (as Charles de Gaulle did before May 1968), be an opportunity. But it must also be understood that both the radical left and the radical right will emerge stronger from the crisis. That is why it is important to offer alternatives that emphasize rationality, civic friendship and dialogue in order to achieve inclusive, solidary and sustainable development.

Political immobility would currently be Chile’s downfall and would open wide the doors to right-wing and left-wing populists, with its rhetoric that agitates antagonisms and its simple solutions to complex problems. If that were to become a reality, it would be a tragedy not only for Chile, but for all of Latin America. It would be sad, very sad, and then one could only agree with Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.


This article was published by on October 25th, 2019. Reproduced on Political Hispanic with authorization from said source. Also translated by Political Hispanic.
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