Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Chile protests echo Allende's prophecy



On 11 September 1973, Chile's socialist program led by President Salvador Allende was overthrown by a US-backed military coup. From the subsequent dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, to the democratic transition and up until now, all Chilean governments have committed themselves to preserving a neoliberal model, which has led to a seemingly insurmountable gap between the Chilean elite and the people.

Demonstrators protest against President of Chile Sebastian Piñera on 28 October 2019. (Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)Against this backdrop, a rise in metro fares was the trigger for the country to erupt in mass protests. Chileans are demanding the resignation of right-wing President Sebastian Piñera and an end to the Pinochet constitution. Chile's constitution restricts democracy and enshrines neoliberal economic policies which have hampered the people's rights to education, healthcare and social benefits.

In response to the ongoing protests, Piñera's government announced curfews across Chile and unleashed the military upon Chileans. The brutal tactics, including mass arrests, torture, killings and disappearances, have prompted comparisons with the dictatorship's persecution of its opponents; the only difference being that such violence is ordained during Chile's semblance of democracy.

As it became clear that the Chileans would not back down from their demands, Piñera promised social reforms and issued belated apologies. Unsurprisingly, Chileans are not only sceptical but outright refuse concessions, after experiencing relics of the military dictatorship through the President's approval of military repression against the people. Likewise, Piñera's announcement calling for the resignation of his cabinet failed to dent the Chilean people's demand to build an inclusive and just society.

For the first time in decades, the mass protests have proved the strength of Chile's collective memory. Pinochet's call for oblivion is defeated; this can be seen in how Chileans demonstrated with full awareness of continuity. The people have broadcast concerts by Victor Jara, murdered by the dictatorship. They have also protested in memory of the disappeared victims of the dictatorship, while asking, repeatedly, where the current detained and disappeared protestors have been taken by the military. The Chilean people have also testified to their unity with the Mapuche people, all protesting as one against neoliberal violence.

In turn, Chile has also vindicated Allende's 1973 final broadcast before the presidential palace was bombed by the Chilean military: 'The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either. Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.'

And the avenues opened. Last week's mass protest in Santiago, was estimated to have been attended by 1.2 million people. Piñera's condescending response — a tweet claiming the government has 'changed' and purportedly lauding the protests — was met with derision. From dictatorship to democracy, Chileans have experienced similar forms of state-sanctioned violence. Change will not be trusted to the hands of right-wing or centre-left governments which have protected Pinochet's constitution at all costs.


"It is unlikely any Western country will sever ties with Chile. Yet it is imperative to remember that both the Pinochet dictatorship and Chile's neoliberal quagmire did not happen in a vacuum."


Chile has ignited international attention, yet the leaders of countries that were complicit with Pinochet's dictatorship have implemented a silence that must not be ignored. Foremost among complicit countries is the US, due to its aim to eradicate socialism in the region and ensure the ongoing dependency of Latin America. 

As allies of the US, Australia's intelligence agencies, ASIS and ASIO, infiltrated Chile on the command of the CIA. Much of the information regarding Australia's collaboration with the US in Chile remains classified by the government. Yet like the US, Australia has so far refrained from issuing statements about the protests in Chile. In Sydney, protestors gathered in front of the Opera House to demand the government cuts ties with Chile in response to the repression unleashed upon the population.

It is unlikely any Western country will sever ties with Chile. Yet it is imperative to remember that both the Pinochet dictatorship and Chile's neoliberal quagmire did not happen in a vacuum. In Patagonia's National Park, for example, 5000 hectares were excluded from the area to accommodate mining companies. One company connected to the gold and silver extraction in the region is the Australian company, Equus Mining.

The dictatorship legacy is also a result of diplomatic ties; hence the importance of holding accountable the governments that collaborated in this process. At home, Chileans are fighting their battle. International solidarity must support the Chilean struggle, yet there must also be a collective effort to expose the web of complicity and impunity, including governments which turned a blind eye to the cycle of neoliberal violence for profit in Chile.



Ramona WadiRamona Wadi is a freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.

Main image: Demonstrators protest against President of Chile Sebastian Piñera on 28 October 2019. (Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Ramona Wadi, Chile, Salvador Allende, Pinochet



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thank you Ramona for this insightful article. We can often forget, over time, what did happen in Chile and assume that now that Pinochet is gone democracy has returned. As you so correctly point out the role of the USA in South America in ensuring its interests are met has ensured the neoliberal style of occupation has continued even after the end of the dictator. Thanks also for the naming of the Australian mining company implicated in this attack on the Chilean people

Tom Kingston | 30 October 2019  

Ramona, It is good to remind us of past events when protesters arise again as living conditions worsen , with predictable results, as the vested interests attempt to silence dissent. Throughout last century and up to the present the U.S. has and does play a huge role in influencing the types of Government's they allow in Central and South America, to the detriment of the peoples of the region. I very much doubt that our Government will support the protesters for a better deal as, tied to neo liberal polices itself, it has firmly placed its loyalty to the U.S.

Gavin O'Brien | 30 October 2019  

Ramona, Thanks for the analysis underpinning your article. It should however be remembered that the protest is more broad-based than you allow, and among the many citizens demonstrating are a multitude of parents who send their children to the 50 percent of Chilean schools that are Catholic and which had their public funding cut by the prior Bachelet government on the demands of those on the Left ideologically opposed to the public funding of Catholic schools. Many of the children attending Catholic schools are poor and it shouldn't surprise that parents, who must now offset education costs by paying fees, should strenuously object.

Dr Michael FURTADO | 31 October 2019  

Latin America is often in tumult and often the tumult is attributed to current or historical causes said to be connected to US meddling in geographical territories which it regards as its backyard. This is odd because if Latin America were a Catholic parish, its patron saint would be Costa Rica, to which the supposed Chinese curse of living in interesting times (or, for that matter, US meddling) never seems to apply. The parishioner-nations should pack a sandwich and go see what’s up with the patron saint, a pilgrimage or haj if you like.

roy chen yee | 02 November 2019  

Chile was a 'petri didn't for or living experiment of authoritarian radical right libertarianism. Post Allende key economic 'architects' was the Chicago School of economists, including James Buchanan whose contemporaries included Hayek, Friedman et al.

Andrew J Smith | 02 November 2019  

Similar Articles

Slaying Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

  • Binoy Kampmark
  • 28 October 2019

Here, al-Baghdadi seemed to reprise a previous villainous role: that played by Osama bin Laden, the recognisable face of Al-Qaeda. It was similar in another respect: slaying the symbolic head might provide some form of catharsis, but it would hardly redress the logistic realities on the ground.