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Chilean Presidential Primary Results are In

June 30, 2013 Comments off

Chileans voted in the presidential primaries for the November 2013 elections, and the results are in.

For the Nueva Mayoría (New Majority, a coalition of left and center-left parties):

Michelle Bachelet Jeria (PS – Socialist Party)  73.05% (WINNER)

Andrés Velasco Brañes  (ILA – Independent) 13%

Claudio Orrego Larraín (PDC – Christian Democratic Party) 8.87%

José Miguel Gómez Urrútia  (PRSD  – Radical Social Democratic Party) 5.06%


For the Alianza por Chile (Alliance for Chile, a coalition of right and center-right parties):

Pablo Longueira (UDI – Independent Democratic Union) 51.37% (WINNER)

Andrés Allemand (RN – National Renovation) 48.62%

(You can see more detailed information, such as regional stats, by following the links here, and information on the candidates—in Spanish—here.)

BUT, in addition to Bachelet and Longueira, other candidates endorsed by parties that did not form coalitions will also throw their hats in the ring for the presidental bid. Two favorites among the left (and the media, to an extent) include Marcel Claude, who has been endorsed by the Humanist Party, and Marcos Enríquez-Ominami, candidate for the Progressive Party.  (Enríquez-Ominami is  the son of Revolutionary Left Movement [MIR] co-founder Miguel Enríquez, who was assassinated by the Pinochet regime in 1973, the same year Enríquz Onimani was born. The presidential candidate is not a political reincarnation of his father, however.)

We’ll see how it all turns out in November. All candidates will certainly face immense pressure in the face of ongoing protests and outrage over the police’s violent response. (Like, for instance, police officers throwing rocks at protesters, mostly students, a few days ago—but this is not the first time the police have done this and worse in the past few years, and sadly, it probably won’t be the last.)

Chilean Parent’s Letter to a Teacher Shows why a Change in Mentality, not just the System, is Needed

April 23, 2013 1 comment

A letter from a parent to a schoolteacher from October 15, 2012, has been making waves in the news and on the internet in Chile. It sounds identical to the ignorant remarks thrown at educators in the U.S. as they have fought for basic rights like unions, as well as pushed back against policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which practically institute teacher culpability without providing nearly enough resources to combat the economic and social problems that–gasp–educators can’t fix by themselves.

Chile, not surprisingly, faces very similar issues. While students, teachers, and supporters have taken to the streets en masse to call out the government on the failure of the neoliberal educational system, as this letter shows, sometimes, parents still expect teachers to take on full responsibility for their child’s education, rather than sharing that task. This is my translation:

Mr. Professor: (Hmm, couldn’t remember the teacher’s name?)

I do not have time to go talk to you at the school. If my son has bad behavior, it is on your time, in your class, in your classroom. 

I cannot leave my office to talk to you every time that it occurs to you. The problems with my son’s grades are because you don’t understand him at all. It is you who has to review his notebooks, his homework, and his books. This is your job. You are the educator. Do the work.

Of course we are going to talk, but when I have the time.


The letter was shared on Facebook by Diccionario Señas Chile, and it has been shared over 5,400 times and had almost 1,000 comments that take both sides. Many of them support the teacher, while others claim that teachers are “lazy.”

To me, this letter indicates another aspect of looking at education as a business deal vs. looking at it as an opportunity to create a better society. This father refused to leave his office to participate in his child’s education, both because that would have taken him away from work (money, or the opportunity to make it), and because he sees his child’s education as a business transaction, rather than social right that needs to be constantly bolstered by family, community, government, and society. Education, to him, was a service provided in exchange for money, rather than part of his resposibility as a Chilean, and global, citizen.

That mentality is what neoliberalism did to education in Chile, in addition to reproducing vast economic inequality. Hopefully, if Chile reforms its educational system, mentalities will also change over time. And then, maybe the U.S. can look to Chile as an example for educational reform.


Are Chileans Happy about Michelle Bachelet’s Return?

March 17, 2013 Comments off

Friday evening, Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and head of UN Women, announced that she would be returning to her home country for “personal reasons” after Holy Week. As Chile’s Presidential elections loom, most speculate she will soon announce her intention to run for another term as president. (The constitution prohibits consecutive terms.)

Yet it while the U.S. media has noted the agitation that Chilean politians on both the left and right are experiencing in the face of Bachelt’s silence regarding her plans, it seems that for the most part, they have not quite captured the frustration that many Chilean citizens feel in terms of her prolonged absence and now, return, just in time to run for president.

Personally, I still have much to study regarding the issues and do not wish to take a stand at this time. But I find it interesting that, overwhelmingly, the Chilean media, as well as my various social circles here in Santiago–which range from academics, to lefities, to leftist-sympathizers (some who rarely vote), to more center-right folks–have emphasized Bachelet’s absence more than her return to Chile. They wonder how someone who went to the U.S. for a few years can just jump back onto the political scene to save the day, as it were.

I think a better argument to make would be to point out her support of political repression against Mapuches–which the right has perpetuated (and started, perhaps, but that fight really goes back to colonial times). She undoubtedly made great strides in many areas, including women’s rights–but of course, those are just cosas de mujeres (women’s things). But no one doubts her political power–she left office with over an approval rating of around 80%, making her a powerful opponent, candidate, or friend. But whatever Chileans think about Bachelet, they are surely anticipating some sort of announcement from her, either in support of a presidential candidate or her own intentions to run.

History vs. Fiction? Gael vs. Chile? Memory Struggles over the Film “No”

February 10, 2013 Comments off

As an historian, I’m never all that surprised when fictional films don’t live up to historical reality. So I wasn’t shocked when the film No, which tells a story about the media side of the No campaign in the 1988 plebiscite in Chile, did not give credit to the social movements of the 1980s, but instead practically argued that the media shifted dictator Augusto Pinochet out of power.

Needless to say, many human rights activists and the left in Chile range on a scale from disgruntled to outrage regarding the movie. And yet some people who are active in leftist politics have recommended the film to me. It came out in Chilean theaters last September, near the anniversary of the golpe de estado. Now that it has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, discussion has started again over the film’s significance and its validity as part of Chile’s collective memory of the dictatorship.

I would argue that, at root, rather than the issue of blockbuster films distorting history, the struggle for space in collective memory is the fire that has been ignited here. The two problems are intertwined: whose version of history is more important, which narrative takes precedence, which story is the one people will remember—that is what is being debated.

Many people who have taken offense to the film participated in the social and political movements in the 1980s that led to Pinochet’s loss in the 1988 plebiscite. Afterward, during the transition to democracy, the catchphrase from the campaign, which is the feature of the movie—“la alegría ya viene (happiness is coming)—did not come true for activists. Pinochet and the military oversaw the transition, he made himself senator for life, his constitution remains in effect today (albeit with some amendments), most torturers and killers did not receive punishment, and neoliberal policies remained. State socialism did not return full-force as the left had hoped.

In that context, the activists and sympathizers who have spoken against the film feel as though, with this successful movie starring heartthrob Gael García Bernal, they are once again being marginalized from the narrative. They’re frustrated. And that’s understandable, considering that we live in an age in which the general public relies far too much on movies and television for their education, rather than cracking open a real history book.

But if you really want to watch films that don’t mess up the history of the Pinochet dictatorship, check out any of Patricio Guzman’s documentaries. If you want to see Gael García Bernal’s face for a couple of hours, and watch an entertaining work of historical fiction, check out No. But do remember that it’s historical fiction, and its purpose isn’t to tell the story of the social movements that actually did bring down Pinochet. For that story, you’ll actually need some bona-fide history.

Two September 11ths

September 11, 2012 Comments off

Being in Chile for September 11th, especially this year, is moving.

On a personal note, I am conducting research for my dissertation, which investigates how political prisoners and their families rebuilt their lives in the aftermath of the political violence that began thirty-nine years ago today when a military coup overthrew the democratically-elected president Salvador Allende. It saddens me to think of the participation of my country—the United States—in that attack on democracy, especially when the memory of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, while undoubtedly tragic in its own right, has long become a battle cry for supposedly defending freedom.

Like Ariel Dorfman in his essays “The Other 9/11” and “Epitaph for another September 11th,” I grieve for both tragedies while finding it unsettling that Chileans fought peacefully (as Dorfman pointed out, with a few exceptions, but non-armed movements far outweighed the armed) for the return of the civil rights and democratic institutions that were ripped from them, yet the U.S. government happily championed war abroad and the destruction of civil liberties both abroad and at home.

Over the past few years, Chile has witnessed an effervescence collective struggle that fueled the protests in the 1980s that eventually led to Pinochet’s downfall in a 1988 plebiscite. This is largely seen in the student movement. Students have continuously demonstrated for affordable, equal, and quality education. They are fighting the privatized education system that Pinochet re-organized under his military rule as he began the systematic destruction of the welfare state and implementation of neoliberal economic policies.  And the police are still reactionary and violent, just as they were in the 1970s and 1980s.

In fact, as I watched the protests at the Universidad de Chile’s main building a couple of weeks ago, I could not help but think that I had stepped back in time. Students yelled from the windows of the building, which they had taken over (peacefully), and banners flew, featuring Allende’s face and slogans such as “The economy at the service of humans, not humans at the service of the economy.” A large crowd of demonstrators blocked the main thoroughfare, and they were soon sprayed with either water or tear gas. Yet I doubt the students will give up anytime soon. The memory of collective struggle is living on through them.

So this September 11th, I have both Chile and the United States in my thoughts. With demonstrators pushing for reform in Chile and an upcoming presidential election in the U.S., I hope that both countries truly reflect on the meaning of democracy today, rather than whisk around patriotic thoughts with the wave of a flag.

Supreme Court Ruling: Mexico’s States Must Recognize Gay Marriage

August 21, 2012 Comments off

In a huge step forward for LGBT rights in the Americas, Mexico’s Supreme Court has ordered the country’s 31 states to recognize same-sex marriages. The capital, Mexico City, currently performs marriages for same-sex couples, and as of March, married gay couples can adopt children. Other marriage rights include applying for joint bank loans, inheriting wealth, and receiving a spouse’s insurance coverage.

Although the states are not required by law to perform same-sex marriages, this is a step in the right direction for LGBT rights in Mexico, and hopefully other countries in Latin America—and the United States of America—will follow.

It is unfortunate that the states are not required to recognize the adoption clause, as this could easily result in problems for the adopted children of gay married couples living outside the capital. Hopefully this will soon change.

Neo-Nazi Training and Destruction of Jewish Tombs Denounced in Chile

July 19, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday, Movilh (the Chilean Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation) denounced before the National Intelligence Agency (ANI) that a group of “neo-Nazi sympathizers” in Chile are receiving paramilitary training and attempted to damage some Jewish tombs. Photos of the activities, as well as a video of the paramilitary training, were provided to Movilh anonymously.

Although Movilh has traditionally promoted the rights of those marginalized for their sexuality, the organization had denounced neo-Nazi groups to National Intelligence in December 2011 for spreading homophobic, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic propaganda. When one also considers that Daniel Zamudio was murdered by a group of men that included at least one neo-Nazi and that neo-Nazism has since become almost synonymous with homophobia in Chile, as well as the fact that the Anti-Discrimination Law was finally passed after Zamudio’s death (and due to Movilh’s persistence over many years), it seems logical that an anonymous source seeking a powerful voice to denounce neo-Nazi activities would choose Chile’s most influential LGBT rights organization rather than a Jewish organization or collaboration of synagogues.

The photos, which you can view here, leave quite an impact. So does the video, which you can view here.  In the video, you can hear them chanting,

Sácales los brazos para que no se pueda arrastrar, sácale los ojos para que no pueda ver. (Take away their arms so they can’t crawl; take away their eyes so they can’t see.)

The anonymous source told Movilh that they had a list of first and last names of the people in the photos and video, and that they knew that this particular group, which sympathizes with the neo-Nazis, operates in Chile. Yet since they have not been able to tie this particular group of people to a larger collective, they declined to provide Movilh with the list of names.

Movilh has fought against neo-Nazism in Chile in the past, and its presence in Chile has been studied, if scarcely. One would assume that a highly credible and visible organization like Movilh would not make a denouncement based on what could likely be bogus information.  Assuming it is all true, then, let’s hope Movilh’s actions convince National Intelligence to take action.

LGBT Domestic Partnerships in Chile: Closer to Equality, or Separate but Equal?

July 17, 2012 Comments off

This has been an important year for LGBT rights in Chile, albeit marred by tragedy. The violent murder of 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio catalyzed the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Law, which had been stuck in Congress for eight years. Today, when the discussion over legalizing domestic partnerships is on the verge of being re-opened, Movilh, the Chilean Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, inaugurated a photographic exposition in the halls of the Chilean Congress that both celebrates LGBT pride and urges LGBT people to “Salir del Closet” (come out of the closet).

The forty-square-meter exhibition by Leopoldo Correa, called “Salir del Closet,” contains thirty photographs of marches in Chile and the United States.  It also recounts historic moments in Movilh’s twenty-one years, and it features an homage to Daniel Zamudio.

“Salir del Closet”, which will be on display in Congress until July 27, was inaugurated at a very strategic moment: just when Congress is about to tackle legalizing domestic partnerships (Acuerdo de Vivir en Pareja, or AVP) again. Various formulations have floated around since 2007, but none have been approved.

To give a little more context, for the first time ever, this year’s Chilean census had an option for recognizing that one lives with his or her same-sex partner. Movilh began a campaign for this year’s census for homosexual couples living together to recognize their “media naranja” (the other half of their orange), meaning to put it on record that they were cohabitating with their same-sex partner.

The AVP (once the Acuerdo de Vivir en Comun, or AVC) would allow couples of the same or opposite sex to have their domestic partnership legally recognized through registration with a notary or the Civil Registry. While a domestic partnership would allow the two parties to administer their assets as a couple, marriage would still be legally set aside for heterosexual couples. One could say about the AVP, then, what many people in the U.S. in favor of gay marriage vs. civil unions have argued: that civil unions with no access to marriage maintains a status of “separate but equal”, which is inherently unequal.

And Chilean LGBT activists know that, without a doubt. Yet let’s hope that if the AVP is approved, it will be a step in the right direction.  Surprisingly, even right-wing President Sebastián Piñera has spoken in favor of it–while also defending marriage as the exclusive right of heterosexual couples. So let’s also hope that, if the AVP approved, it doesn’t become a “one step forward, two steps back” situation that intends to appease LGBT people by legally recognizing their domestic partnerships, yet denying them the full rights of marriage if they choose to marry—because they should have the choice.

More than Victims on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

June 26, 2012 Comments off

Today, June 26, is what the UN recognizes as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or even a couple of months, you’ll have noticed that we write a lot on torture, political violence, and human rights violations in Latin America. The region has certainly seen its share of these atrocities.

The UN’s website says, “Torture seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and denies the inherent dignity of the human being.” This reminds me of a similar phrase I read in a 1990 publication of the mental health team for one of Chile’s most well-known human rights groups, the Corporation for the Defense of the Rights of the People (CODEPU): “All torture is psychological torture.” This simple phrase, while to some people may seem self-evident, broke down the dichotomy between physical torture and psychological torture and maintained that long after the physicial pain of torture has left the body, the psychological wounds remain.  We see this throughout Latin America as individuals and societies try to make sense of the violent past, even as state violence and discrimination against marginalized groups persist. Yet we can also see glimpses of hope and healing as well.

This past week, I conducted interviews with former political prisoners of Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. These men and women had been tortured, held for over a year in prison, and one woman gave birth in prison and kept her daughter with her until her release a year and a half later. It was obvious that each of them had come to terms with the experience of violence in different ways and to varying degrees, and the memory of it–mainly the psychological aspects–still haunts them.  Yet they are determined not to remain “victims.” They do not deny that terrible things happened to them, and they do not wish to forget completely. In fact, they told me their stories so more people could learn about that part of Chile’s past. They just don’t want the dictatorship to have the power to keep them in an intransigent state of suffering.

So while we think of “victims of torture,” we should not pity them the way we pity a helpless animal, because that is the last thing these former militants, at least, would want (and I am speaking in the context of Latin America). We should, instead, realize how strong they are as they manage their own memories in everyday life. And we shouldn’t forget that the tortured have been given the immense responsibility of speaking for the executed and disappeared, who, for a long time, were held up as the greatest martyrs while survivors of torture shouldered the burden of marginalization, exile, and memory.

In short, the victims of torture are much, much more than victims.

80,000 March for LGBT Equality in Santiago, Chile

June 24, 2012 Comments off

Over 80,000 people took to the streets in Chile’s Marcha por la Igualdad y los Derechos Humanos de la Diversidad Sexual (March for Equality and Human Rights for Sexual Diversity) this past Saturday, June 23. That impressive number ranks between the two largest student protests of the year.  Yet a friend’s facebook post put that number into perspective and caused me to reflect more deeply on the situation.  To paraphrase, she said that there should have been 15 million people marching, because this is something about which everyone in her country should be concerned.

Obviously, she didn’t literally expect every single Chilean to march for LGBT equality.  That would be unrealistic.  And 80,000 is a remarkable number.  But the larger message in her brief facebook post is very poignant: that all Chileans (and I would add, all citizens of the world) should be concerned about LGBT equality—by treating LGBT with respect; by teaching their children that LGBT people are no different than heterosexual people; by refusing to participate in and/or support discriminatory practices in the workplace; and by realizing that in general, we should treat our fellow human beings with decency regardless of sexual preference, race, color, creed, ethnicity, sex, gender, or any other category we can invent to set us apart and create the illusion that one group has some sort of natural power and superiority over the other.

As a U.S. citizen living in a country where the subject of LGBT rights has been on the forefront in the past few months with the vicious murder of Daniel Zamudio in March and the passing of the anti-discrimination law in April (seven years after it was proposed), I am glad to see that 80,000 people marched in support of a more just, safer, and more humane Chile.  It also makes me think of my own country, and I hope that one day, all 313 million people in the U.S. will support the full and equal rights of their fellow U.S. citizens of the LGBT community.


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