Today In Latin American History
- 1541: The Picunche indigenous leader Michimalonco leads an ultimately unsuccessful attack against the newly founded Spanish colonial settlement of Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura in present-day Chile. The settlement’s leader, Inés de Suárez, retaliates by beheading seven indigenous chiefs who had been imprisioned by the Spanish.
- 1829: In Mexico, Antonio López de Santa Anna earns the title El Héroe de Tampico after defeating an invading Spanish army led by Isidro Barradas.
- 1973: A violent military coup d’état headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet and backed by the United States puts an end to the government of president Salvador Allende, who commits suicide inside the presidential palace of La Moneda while under attack by the military.
- 2009: Juan Almeida Bosque, a major figure of Cuban Revolution who went on to have a long career in the Cuban government, dies at age 82 in Havana.
After our adventures in the occupied highschool, we went to a nearby cafe, drank amazing coffee with rum in it, and made a new friend, the proprietor of the cafe, a man called Eddy. The quote above comes from him.
Eddy sat down with us and talked to us about all kinds of things - being an activist before and during the Allende government, the horrors of the Pinochet coup and its aftermath, including being tortured by them for being a dissident, and the continuous negative effects of Pinochet’s economic and social policies on Chile today.
He talked about the horrible inequality that exists in Chile today - corporations and mining companies are incredibly wealthy, but the labour movement was pretty much destroyed under Pinochet and hasn’t really recovered. The GDP of the country is pretty high, but the overall standard of living is much lower than in Argentina, for example. There’s pretty high levels of poverty, particularly for the Indigenous populations, for whom land rights and access to education are very important issues. The government has a pretty high federal reserve, but instead of spending it on infrastructure, education and other important things in Chile, it’s being loaned to European countries to prop up their struggling economies.
When I was small, my mother was involved with a group of Chilean refugees who were anti-Pinochet, and I remember learning about the disappearances at a very early age. Because of this, I expected that there would be a much more anti-Pinochet presence in Chile, but it’s been pretty minimal. The wealthy part of the population seem to still be very in favour of him, and all the 11/9/73 memorial stuff was in the form of subversive protests, which I wasn’t really expecting. Eddy told us that a lot of people don’t care about the crimes against humanity that the Pinochet regime perpetrated, because some people managed to become very wealthy.
Eddy talked to us about the recent student protests, as well, which he was very in favour of. He told us that last month, there was a protest in the Plaza Brasil and the carabineros let off a lot of teargas bombs, which made everyone in the neighbourhood sick afterwards. He told us that the parents of students who are occupying the universities are sometimes losing their jobs because of what their kids are doing.
This made me incredibly thankful to live in a country with a strong labour movement. Having the right to organise, to not lose your job because of the political affiliation or actions of your family members, to be able to fight for decent conditions that mean class is not entrenched - these are valuable rights that I think a lot of people take for granted.
It was maybe one of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had in my life, and I’m incredibly grateful that he took the time to talk to us about a piece of history that we don’t hear a lot about in Australia. I’m also very grateful to be in Chile at a time when there’s so much political action taking place, and I’m very sad that this isn’t getting a lot of attention from the Anglosphere media. I think people assume that all of Chile’s problems ended when Pinochet left power, but it’s very much not the case.
I hope that when I am Eddy’s age, I am still passionate about equality for all people, regardless of nationality or gender or sexual orientation etc. He is an amazing man, and he also makes the best coffee we’ve had in Santiago so far.
Thank you, Eddy.
Thanks so much for this Julia! It is really interesting to read and also quite sad. Really do wish the Western media would talk about this more.(via stinkysister)