I studied abroad in Valparaíso, Chile last year. Now, in the wake of a powerful, unified movement against 30 years of economic abuses, I implore our community to listen to the stories of our Chilean peers. The version in our newspapers overemphasizes acts of delinquency and destruction, bolstering Chilean president Sebastián Piñera’s criminalization of the movement to justify his authorization of violence. The Chilean people, peacefully marching by the millions and risking their safety to fight for their rights, are left out of the dialogue entirely. To show solidarity with our loved ones across borders, we must leverage their voices—voices which are rendered invisible by our press.
I now pass on the stories of four Chilean women, each of whom I love dearly. Fernanda Azócar Rodríguez was an exchange student at my high school in Vermont; she now works for Foundation Overcoming Poverty in Rancagua. I met Patricia Villalobos Olivares and Tamara Alejandra Antilef Riffo in the university theater; they taught me to find my voice. And there’s Paulina Solís Iturra, from my abroad program, who shared her strength with me during a painful time.
Patricia begins. To her, “in this formerly sleeping nation, our pain has now brought out a fury of many years; not thirty years, but more than six hundred.” She refers to a legacy of colonialism in which the Chilean people, particularly indigenous communities like the Mapuche, have been marginalized and abused by the state.
Tamara echoes this sentiment: “the people have awoken with great force. The social inequality in Chile is massive.” Fernanda continues, saying that “the violence is in the military and the neoliberal system. This is a system that has generated more social services for the rich than for people in poverty. People in the most vulnerable sections feel discriminated against, powerless, isolated.”
Paulina laments that left out of the narrative in mainstream media are the “deaths, disappearances and instances of torture.” Instead, as Patricia tells me, the press focuses “on the riots, looting and vandalism.” Paulina adds that what “the press doesn’t show is the free access the Special Forces and military have permitted to allow robberies and looting to occur, with the ultimate goal to create chaos, instill fear and place blame on our social movement.” We do not see this conspiracy deconstructed in our media.
Tamara condemns the state for this violence, declaring, “here in Chile, they kill us for fighting back. In Chile, they torture. In Chile, they commit acts of sexual violence. What democracy are we even talking about?” Patricia agrees that this is not democracy. “I have said for a while that we were living in a dictatorship as Chilean citizens, but I never thought it would turn into a war against its own people.”
They are transcending the state repression using peaceful mass resistance and artistic activism. Fernanda says that every evening, to protest the oppressive curfews, the Chilean people form a chorus from their balconies, singing “The Right to Live in Peace” by Victor Jara, “flying the flags of the Mapuche and striking saucepans,” cacerolazos.
Ultimately, my friends speak to me about dignity and its absence within the neoliberal economic structure.
“We demand the gap be closed in health services, education, social security, housing, natural resources,” says Fernanda. “The citizens demand, in the streets, collectively, what the neoliberal model took from them: dignity.” Tamara reiterates this: “Today, we go out into the streets with the rage of years of misery, humiliation, anguish and violence. We fill the streets to scream loudly, that we demand dignity.”
“This will not stop, we do not have fear,” Fernanda says. “Chile has always been awake, but today we are finally heard.”
At Bowdoin, most of us have connections with people abroad. As global citizens, it’s our responsibility to listen, intentionally, to what they are saying. In the case of Chile, we need to recognize the ways in which our government is responsible and complicit. We need to share their stories because we believe in freedom and the right to protest, to reflect on the fact that the same neoliberal capitalist system lives firmly in our own sociopolitical structure. To my friends—thank you for your stories.
Lucia Gagliardone is a member of the Class of 2020.