Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Uprising Across the Andes

August 6, 2011

I’m sitting 980 meters above sea level, just below the summit of Mendoza’s Cerro de la Gloria. Directly ahead lies the Cordillera de los Andes, and a fairly tranquil scene. The same however, cannot be said for the other side of the Andes. Due west-in Santiago, Chile, tensions run high and show no sign of easing up anytime soon.

On Thursday night, hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets in protest of Chile’s small and under-funded public education system, particularly the scant options at the university level. No silly, they didn’t apply for a permit, walk around for a few hours, and call it a day. This is Latin America, and people don’t follow the rules when it comes to protest.

For the past two months, there has been a nearly-continuous state of protest: hunger strikes, kiss-ins and protests with numbers in the tens of thousands. Come Thursday night, things got much more dramatic. Protestors blocked the streets with flaming barricades, tore down street signs and broke into and occupied a television station. They were met by riot police armed with fire hoses, tear gas and rubber bullets. And they fought back; 90 police officers were reported injured. At the moment, the streets are quiet, but organizers have announced that they will be back in full force on Tuesday if their demands are not met.

Of course, just as with the Seattle 1999 WTO protests, it will all be in vain. If only all of the protesters had managed to remain peaceful : had not fought back against police and property : then the protest would have sent the right message, one of happylovingkindness. People would have supported the students’ cause, but they were appalled at the protestors lack of self-control.

Just kidding. Let’s try the Latin American version of that story.

Here, there is no pacifistic protest-dogma. The public response to the student protest was the opposite of what I described. There bulk of the outrage was directed at the government’s violent repression of the protest. Throughout Chile, people held pot-banging protests to express their discontent with police repression. President Piñera’s approval ratings took a major hit.

In the United States, there is a perverse conception that protest should be strictly pacifistic. It doesn’t need to be this way. Sometimes it’s right to fight back, sometimes it’s right to smash things up, and it’s always right to drop the dogmas and keep an open mind.

From the other America,

Enrique Gales




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