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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.


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