World One year after 18-O: the Friday of fury that...

One year after 18-O: the Friday of fury that collapsed the Piñera oasis and unleashed a constituent process without turning back

“Without a doubt, this is a weekend that can be complex, but we have already been going through and we have seen how the vast majority of Chileans want peace and tranquility, and I think that this should be the central element that they interpret, that marks the attitude, activity and life of Chileans, particularly in the face of October 25 “. These were the words of the Minister of the Interior, Víctor Pérez, who took stock of the acts of violence that occurred yesterday, in the run-up to the one-year anniversary of the social outbreak of October 18.

The chief of the cabinet appreciated the peaceful behavior of most of the protesters on Friday, stressing the importance of this spirit with a view to the plebiscite. But without a doubt what happens this Sunday is still uncertain. And it is that tomorrow marks a year of a historic day.

The image of high school students jumping turnstiles in the Santiago Metro, demonstrating against the increase from 800 to 830 pesos in the passage of the subway train, days after what would be the beginning of the so-called “social outbreak”, was undoubtedly one of the first signs of what was to come. Without any prediction, and not only for those 30 pesos, on a day like today – but in 2019 – an unparalleled crisis shook the foundations of the “oasis” of a convulsed Latin America.

It was a Friday of fury in Santiago, a new “bean revolution” Some said, when thousands of people took over the emblematic Plaza Italia for weeks, renamed in the name of dignity and considered the ground zero of the “outbreak”, to protest against the Government and inequality, shouting “Chile woke up” or “It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years.”

The level of chaos registered that night, in which the Enel building and a Banco de Chile branch burned, and the spontaneous manifestations of social discontent depicted in massive cacerolazos that spread to other regions of the country had – according to cross-sectional sources – a clear traceability: the political mistakes made by President Sebastián Piñera and his ministers at that time to contain the worst political crisis experienced in democracy.

The errors that started from the moment of the increase in Metro fares, and that they found in the exit of the President to eat pizza the clearest symbol of the disconnection of the Government while Santiago was on fire, they hit the Executive’s waterline low, the consequences of which we can see reflected in the polls until today. The biggest criticism: from the beginning, before the citizen revolt, the Executive evaded the bottom of the conflict and chose to reinforce the police force.

A day later, on the 19th, the excesses broke out and the Government decreed a curfew for eight days, something unprecedented in democracy. Then, and after meeting with the military, Piñera says on the 20th that Chile was “at war against a powerful enemy”.

The “Plaza de la Dignidad” was the scene of festive rallies, but also bloody battles, with fires, looting and injuries. But the pressure of the demonstrations opened furrows in the wills and Parliament approved, on the 21st, to cancel the increase in the price of the Metro. However, this action was not enough to put out the barricades and more than a million people took Santiago on the 25th, despite the fact that Piñera had also announced measures such as increasing the minimum wage or reducing the salary of parliamentarians. It was the highest concentration in 30 years.

On the 28th, Piñera changed eight of his 24 ministers, among them, his cousin, the Minister of the Interior, Andrés Chadwick Piñera, while the dead had already reached 20 and various international organizations announced visits to the country due to complaints of human rights violations. Humans by agents of the Chilean State.

The tear gas, the smoke, the metal curtains, the scratches, the hoods, the police at every corner, the sidewalks transformed into mosaics, and the military men turned into green walking gargoyles after curfew, became the daily scene, turning what was once the scene of sports celebrations in an inhospitable place loaded with slogans against a President who, like the guanaco jet, turned off the APEC forum and the famous COP25 announced with great fanfare before the outbreak.

Chile was also left without the final of the Copa Libertadores but the demonstrations did not stop. In the streets of Santiago you could hear batucadas, “The people united will never be defeated”, “The right to live in peace”, “The dance of those who are left over”, or read phrases by Charly García or Bolaño in a city that, at night, was filled with lasers pointed at the sky trying to shoot down a police drone.

The reasons that discontent continued, despite the Government’s attempts, he commented almost as a scoop Pablo Ruiz-Tagle, dean of the Law School of the University of Chile, on October 25. The academic said, in an interview with The counter, what “There was not going to be a viable solution without a new Constitution.”

And after 22 days of protests and serious acts of violence, Piñera recently admitted that changing the constitutional text was an urgent matter. “We are going to discuss it within Chile. Let’s go and the intention that I have as President is to be able to discuss it and send the project to Congress, which is the place where constitutional changes have to be discussed,” said the President at that time.

On November 15, the ruling party and the opposition agreed to call a plebiscite in April this year on a new constitutional text and what kind of body should draft it. The Constitution of 1980 began to write its epitaph and Chile began a historic political process for a new social pact. But despite the pact “for peace and the new Constitution”, the mobilizations did not end and two events marked the agenda in the following days. On November 20, the Las Tesis collective performed “A rapist on your way” for the first time and weeks later the song becomes a global feminist anthem.

Then, on November 26, Gustavo Gatica became the first protester to go blind after receiving buckshot to the face. Case that was added to that of Fabiola Campillai, who lost her sight and sense of taste and smell after receiving a tear gas canister fired by a police officer while on her way to work.

The political costs were reflected again on December 11, when Parliament disqualified the now former minister Chadwick from holding public office for five years for his management of the outbreak. The following day, the deputies rejected a political trial against Piñera for human rights violations committed in the crisis, while the UN denounced on the 13th the high number of eye injuries in the protests.

On February 23 the demonstrations continued, although with fewer sparks than before, lively and incandescent. In fact, at the Viña del Mar International Festival there were severe clashes between police and protesters.

On March 3, the first case of Covid-19 was detected in Chile, however there were still no established protocols, five days later, still with embers of the movement for dignity, hundreds of thousands of people commemorated the International Day of the Woman with a call that was recorded as historical.

On March 18, Chile closes its borders and schools and prepares for a lockdown that would last until September. The pandemic took with it the opportunity to hold the plebiscite in April and Congress approved, on March 24, to postpone the vote to October 25 due to the health crisis.

But, in the middle of the confinement, between April and May, several “protests against hunger” were registered in Santiago to ask for help during the pandemic. From there, the story is in fresh ink and on July 23, Parliament approved an unexpected law to withdraw 10% of pension funds early.

Recently, on September 25, the campaign for the plebiscite began and the last two stations of the Santiago Metro opened, which had been closed since the beginning of the crisis that was reactivated on October 2 when a police officer threw a minor to bed from the Mapocho River, fueling the protests again.

Today, with masks and alcohol gel, the restored Plaza Italia could once again host protesters this Sunday who, with the spirit of commemoration, come to demonstrate, one week before the plebiscite. The call of the Government was to demonstrate in a peaceful way, especially in anticipation of the historic decision to replace the current Constitution inherited from the military dictatorship.

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