Monday, 29 October 2012

Chile celebrates

Whooping and shouting occurred in my old hometown of Santiago, Chile, last night as three of the dictatorship’s worst creeps were booted out of office in the municipal elections by the ladies shown above, a stunning reverse for the still-putrid remnants of those awful days.

I cannot help but feel a swell of pride that the granddaughter of Salvador Allende edged out the long-time pinochetista mayor of my home comuna of 20 years, Ñuñoa. Comunas are local administrative units comparable to counties in rural areas or simply city neighborhoods. They have their own budgets and city councils and are much more relevant to residents’ lives than governors or, in many ways, the congress. According to my friends’ reports, the vote was neck-and-neck until she squeezed out a victory around midnight, causing the locals to pour into the streets to celebrate. Sorry I missed it.

Another nazi, who in a sane world would be behind bars and away from decent folks, was finally beaten in a historically conservative neighborhood, Providencia. Christian Labbé [below left, oink oink] was an open defender of Pinochet’s crimes and probably participated in them; upon defeat, he had the unbelievable balls to say that ‘hatred had triumphed’ and caused his defeat. Think about that: a guy who probably at least witnessed people being tortured for their political beliefs is now an expert on ‘hatred’. You have to wonder about the mental state of someone that disconnected from reality.

Labbé made the mistake of dissing his female opponent as ‘just a housewife’, and he took a drubbing from her, sadly only an electoral one. But he also suffered a funa when he went to vote. Funas are surprise, public denunciations of criminals associated with the old regime who escaped prosecution. Frustrated victims and their survivors often burst into public events or gather outside their houses to remind the creeps that their actions haven’t been forgotten. (I witnessed one at a professional conference in the early 2000s.) In response, the ex-torturers’ party that Labbé belonged to issued a whiny complaint about the ‘aggression’ he had suffered. Poor snookums, do you want nana to put a Band-aid on it?

Another major pinochetista figure also was felled in the Santiago comuna, by the daughter of one of Allende’s ministers who was murdered by the junta. How curious that in each case the victor was a woman. Even more noteworthy: the kids chasing these nazis’ fat asses through the streets and calling them out on their pasts weren’t even alive during the most brutal years of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the 1970s and early 1980s.

Chile has long been a social laboratory for worldwide trends, so it’s worth having a look at what’s going on there. Pinochet himself inaugurated the neo-liberal counter-revolution when he stage his 1973 coup, closed the legislature, rounded up and slaughtered union leaders and terrorized the country into accepting the Friedmanite monetarist/free-market straitjacket. Margaret Thatcher followed later, taking power in 1979 to jam her version down the throats of the Brits, and Ronald Reagan brought up the rear starting in 1981.

Even today, some of the GOP geniuses are trying to sell us on Pinochet-era pension ‘reforms’, which funneled Chilean workers’ savings into private financier hands and deprive people today of decent retirement incomes. Paul Ryan is a direct descendant of all of them with his cynically airy-fairy promises that simply unleashing private enterprise and smashing the government to bits will provide prosperity for all.

So what’s going on in Chile now? The successors to the dictatorship (equivalent to our Democrats) presided for 20 years over a plus-c’est-la-meme-chose electoral democracy accompanied by continued economic feudalism. They bragged about growth while doing nothing to stem the increasing inequality of income distribution and very little to alleviate the bleak destiny of most Chileans continually scrabbling to make ends meet. The Pinochet-era privatization of education, for example, which failed miserably at everything except deepening class divisions, was never reformed, leading to the famous student uprisings of the past two years. (Does this sound at all familiar? Get ready, we’re headed there.)

They finally lost to the reconstituted pinochetista parties in 2009 under a Bloombergian billionaire, Sebastián Piñera, who is now a laughingstock with the lowest approval ratings of any chief executive since AP himself. Now, the kids who have to find some kind of life under the wrecked society Pinochet and his thug crew left them are rebelling. It’s no accident that they do so by recalling the crimes of that era, such as this election-day demo outside the National Stadium [below], a notorious torture and disappearance center (featured in Missing, the film with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek).

Without ferocious repression, Pinochet’s economic counter-revolution could not have succeeded. As we amble along into ours, let’s not be naïve or surprised when an American version of repression also forms part of winning strategy.

But another lesson from Chile is that torture and assassination don’t go away. It’s not like sweeping a little dirt under the rug on order of the ruling poobahs and their eager lackeys across the political spectrum and thinking that is that. More like fishheads left under the floorboards—sooner or later, sometimes much, much later, the guests are going to start feeling uncomfortable.

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