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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Modern conquistadors

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Nov 21, 2019

I’ve been closely watching the ongoing protests in Chile. Like many others, I get emotional watching Mapuches yank statues of Spanish conquistadors to the ground. The situation in the country is complex and people are not only protesting the rise of metro fares; they are also protesting colonialism, violence against women, police brutality, neoliberalism and capitalism.

People are tired of being poor. A similar revolt is happening in Lebanon after people massively rejected new tax measures announced by the government October 17. We watched France thrown into turmoil earlier this year with gilets jaunes movement against President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies. Meanwhile, recent protests in Ecuador forced the government to move from the capital of Quito to the coastal city of Guayaquil.

After years of seeing the government privatize basic services, the people in Chile had enough. Even though the country is often shown as an economic success story, basic human rights such as education and housing are not guaranteed. Chile is also one of the countries of Latin America where people are most in debt. To top the insult? The country is fighting austerity measures imposed by their billionaire president, Sebastián Piñera.

One protester’s sign read: “Neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die in Chile.” For those unfamiliar with Chile’s history, the United States sponsored a coup d’état in 1973 to overthrow socialist President Salvador Allende. General Augusto Pinochet then ran an oppressive dictatorship until 1990 marked by violence, torture and imprisonment of political opponents. What happened at Chile’s National Stadium will forever stay a worldwide symbol of Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Beyond that, we have to remember that the US used Chile as a laboratory for neoliberalism, throwing the vast majority into desperate poverty. For those protesting against Piñera, seeing the army in the streets is a painful sight and constant reminder of the dictatorship.

Talking about attacks against state socialism, what is happening in Bolivia right now stirs feelings of déjà vu. The first Indigenous president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, resigned November 10 after weeks of protests, accusations of electoral fraud and a military demand that he step down.

Some people say that his resignation was not a military coup; that it was a popular revolt that forced Morales out of power. I’d say yes and no. Morales changed the constitution to allow him to contest another term and people saw it as a violation of Bolivian institutions.

What would have been the right thing to do should have been to prepare his succession back in 2017, but Morales saw what was coming. Protest leader Luis Fernando Camacho is an ultra-conservative Christian fundamentalist and a millionaire cited in the Panama Papers scandal. Camacho also has close ties to a racist paramilitary group. Openly against Morales’ socialist platform, the far-right had years to organize and get radicalized. They saw Morales’ latest strategy as an opportunity.

The Organization of American States, an organization backed by the CIA, also supported protesters. Maybe in 30 years from now we’ll get to see declassified documents as we did in Pinochet’s 1973 seizure of power from a democratically elected government. Hours after Morales’ resignation, Camacho entered the presidential palace – bible in one hand and national flag in the other – and said, “Pachamama [Andean Mother Earth spirit] will never return to the palace. Bolivia belongs to Christ.”

Colonialism is alive and well.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.