Building a New Chile Requires a New Social Contract
Frustration over life under neoliberalism has created mass revolt in the streets of Chile. But unless we build an alternative to failed neoliberal policies, a historic opportunity will be lost.
- Interview by
- Pablo Vivanco
Chile is living through an unprecedented social upheaval in which frustrations about life under the neoliberal model have spilled into the streets.
While many Chileans see establishment leaders from across the political spectrum as responsible for the state of inequality and corruption in the country, there are a few politicians who have stood out for their consistency and response to real problems that working people face. Daniel Jadue, Communist Party of Chile member and mayor of the Santiago borough of Recoleta, is chief among them.
We spoke with Jadue about the current situation in Chile and where the past weeks of inspiring revolt might lead.
Were you surprised at all by the size, durability, breadth of these mobilizations?
Not at all. Unlike those who repeat incessantly that this took Chile by surprise and that they didn’t see it coming, we communists have been denouncing this situation more than thirty years! More than thirty years ago, when some accepted the exit pact with the dictatorship, we were supporters of free elections and a new constitution. But most of the existing political apparatus at that time was in agreement precisely on consolidate the existing model, and ensuring impunity for those responsible for crimes against humanity under the dictatorship. Thirty years ago!
When Pinera put forward his labor reforms, and when the pension reforms were made, we declared ourselves against them because we knew that they were going to end with miserable wages … For many years we have been talking about the necessity of education reform, health reform and the right to housing and social fragmentation. But those who adapted to the economic model simply did not want to listen. And if you look at the last year and a half, the Communist Party, the CUT (Workers Central), No + AFP (campaign against private pensions) and other organizations have called eight demonstrations denouncing these things.
Therefore, the only ones here who are surprised are those who live in a bubble, they are those who believed that this country was an oasis, and who never realized that what they were looking at was simply a mirage.
How about the response of the Piñera government and the Chilean state to these protests. Did that surprise you?
No, I was not surprised. Unfortunately, they reminded us that they are the same right wing that ruled with the dictatorship. They reminded us that they have armed security forces that are accustomed to violating human rights. So when they decide to put the military on the street and to “put out a fire with gasoline,” they simply reminded Chile that they are the guard dogs, the defenders and guardians of the model instituted by the dictatorship, and that they are willing to kill once again to smother the need for changes. That was what they hoped for.
What they did not understand was that this was a process of accumulation of force that started from day one of the transition to democracy and has continued to today when all Chile is convinced that this model is not sustainable.
So what’s the path forward in the short term for this movement?
The route to follow is outlined in the very Pinochetista constitution that they defend. When a government seriously violates the law and the Constitution, when it also puts the security of the nation and its citizens at risk, and reaches the point of being complicit or being responsible of murders, torture, the constitution contemplates the possibility of a dismissal of the president via constitutional accusation (impeachment) which allows you to resolve the crisis within the institutional framework, and give continuity to the democratic process.
What does this imply? The minute this is done if they have the votes and achieve the impeachment of the president, the vice president of the nation or the president of the Senate are the ones who assume responsible for continuing the period until the calling of new elections, but also allow a change of course for the government.
What’s needed to get at the heart of all the issues that led to this massive, popular expression of discontent? A constituent assembly to redo the constitution?
The first thing to understand is that all the measures that this government can take are going to have to be within the neoliberal model, because the Chilean constitution is neoliberal. So if what people are asking for is a change of model, what you are going to find is the constitution and the constitutional court, which has been the tool that they have constantly used to stop any changes, will prevent you from making the changes.
Therefore, what’s urgent and essential is a new constitution, hopefully via constituent assembly but that has to be defined by people. The agreements from above have been exhausted – the solution will not come from where the place that the disease comes from. This is truly the only solution.
In October there was a massive uprising against austerity. Bolivians reelected Evo Morales, and Macri just lost the elections in Argentina. Do you think that another anti-neoliberal wave taking place on the continent?
Look, I am one of those who never believed in the reflux of the right. Even when President Piñera won, I put forward the idea that the neoliberal program couldn’t take place in democracy, especially in the current stage of neoliberalism.
We were going to have a tremendous opportunity because in Piñera’s first period, he led the right wing to its own destruction. So this time around, he would surely do much worse and leave the country in very bad condition, which is exactly what he has done in less than a year and a half.
I believe the Latin American left has to focus on self-criticism, look at what has failed in these processes it had led, except for the case of Bolivia which stands out in Latin America for its transformation with stability and social peace, but while also attending to the issue of social rights and building a plurinational state. And I believe that is the effort that the Latin American left has to make, to recommit itself to the need to overcome neoliberalism and capitalism as a form of social organization, so as not to make the previous mistakes again.
Would you say that this is a beginning to a revolution in Chile, something like a Chilean spring?
Let’s get one thing is clear – to this day, Chile has obtained absolutely nothing.
Therefore, it is too soon to say that it is the beginning of something. Building a new Chile requires a new social contract. The organizational structures have always been imposed by the ruling classes from above, and that has to end.
So I hope to see these demonstrations continue, and I hope that Chile does not demobilize to return to the previous normal, does not return to the previous week, because that would be the worst thing that could happen.
We will not have another moment like the one we have today, and therefore it is today when we have to bring in changes.