Daniel Zamudio, a 24-year-old Chilean man, continues to be in critical condition more than twenty-five days after being beaten by four men, including at least one neo-Nazi—only because he is gay. There have been conflicting reports over the past few days over whether or not Zamudio is in a state of cerebral failure, but the latest reports confirm that his death is imminent.
On March 3, Zamudio was sleeping in a the San Borja park in Santiago when a group of four young men beat him, kicked him, and burned him with cigarettes for six hours before leaving him for dead, only because he was homosexual. The group included at least one man who identifies as a neo-Nazi. Although Nazism seems like it would not appeal to youths with at least some indigenous ancestry, according to research by journalist Lygia Navarro, most Chilean youth became involved in neo-Nazism because of economic disenfranchisement, and they direct their hatred toward those whom they believe to be a threat to society (and, in effect, the raza chilena or Chilean race), such as homosexuals, Peruvian immigrants, alcoholics, drug addicts, thieves, and punk rockers. (The last one is interesting considering that one of the assailants was a “punky.”) Further, Navarro points out, Nazism was present in Chile since at least 1938—before German Nazis migrated to Chile after World War II. For more on neo-Nazism in Chile, see: http://www.clas.berkeley.edu/Research/graduate/summer2007/Navarro/index.html
While the presence of neo-Nazis in Chile is on the one hand very disturbing, but also interesting (for lack of a better word) considering the history of Nazism and its ostensible incongruence with a following of anyone with indigenous ancestry (or at least not fully “Aryan”), what the Zamudio case has really brought to light is the violence of homophobia. In an article in the Chilean newspaper The Clinic, Zamudio’s father remarked on Chile’s machista culture, and how many men feel entitled to treat women and gay people with disrespect. And he brings up a very good point: machismo is not just about men’s attitudes toward women (the sexism, the idea of being the protector, the double standards for comportment, etc.) It’s also about how men see other men. That extreme, virulent, warped sense of what it means to be a man is kindling for homophobia. And it’s profoundly sad that a young man is suffering so much to show us how dangerous that can be.
Jaime Parada, the spokesman for the Chilean group Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Movilh) said in the online periodical cooperativa.cl that Daniel Zamudio is becoming a “symbol of the cause…of integration, coexistence, and the repudiation of homophobia….” Since March 3, there have been candlelight vigils throughout Chile for Zamudio in which large numbers of people have come together to show their support and to reject homophobia. And now, senators on the left and center (including center-right), at the behest of Movilh and other supporters, are pushing to increase the punitive powers in the Anti-Discrimination Law that was passed in November 2011. (The law is currently more preventive than punitive, according to the Movilh spokesman.) They are also considering officially naming the law the “Ley Zamudio” (Zamudio Law), further symbolizing the young man’s sacrifice. So while homophobia and machismo indeed exist in Chile, let us hope that understanding and respect for fellow human beings will come to overpower them, and what Daniel Zamudio has suffered will not be in vain.