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(en) Workers Solidarity #78 - 30 years of September 11th protests

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 16 Nov 2003 07:48:16 +0100 (CET)


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September in Chile is the month of protests. It is the month where in
protests and angry demonstrations throughout the country Chileans
commemorate September 11th 1973, the day of Pinochets bloody (US
facilitated) coup. Throughout Pinochets reign of terror September the
11th was marked by protests which were systematically and viciously repressed
by the police. Although in 1990 Pinochet was forced to leave, the tradition of
the September 11th protests has continued every year. This is because, despite
the dictator's departure, little has in fact changed fundamentally in Chile.
Pinochet's constitution remains intact and Chile
remains am impoverished, third-world country.

This year marked thirty years since the coup and so there was a
bigger build up than usual to September the 11th, with various
concerts and activities organised for the 11th and the week leading up
to it. As the day of the 11th approached student protests broke out in
almost all of the Chilean universities, forcing the authorities to shut
down the universities for the week.

In the days before the 11th the government declared that there would
be 36,000 police on duty on the 11th, 15,000 for Santiago alone.
Chilean police are infamous in Latin America for their brutality, their
liberal use of live ammunition and their harshly repressive tactics.
They receive a military training and are actually officially part of the
army, although they are answerable to the minister for defence and the
minister for the interior.

On the day of the 11th all around the city centre at every street corner,
were groups of heavily armed police. At around 6 pm over 15,000
people gathered in a huge demonstration in the city centre. As
happens every year, buses to the suburbs which usually run until
around 12, all stopped on the 11th at around 7:30pm. This is due to the
fact that in all but the wealthy neighbourhoods of this city of over 5
million, there are street protests which start at around 8pm. In these
neighbourhood protests people barricade the streets by building huge
bonfires and then proceed to battle with the cops. Every year (except
1997) in these protests people are killed by the police. Last year, 3
protesters were killed in Santiago.

In our neighbourhood the shops closed early and by 8 pm all the
streets were deserted with no cars at all on the usually busy suburban
intersections.

Santiago's streets are long and straight and so when you stood at a
crossroads you could see many different bonfires on the streets
stretching out in every direction. The police had gathered at a nearby
intersection and while they awaited instruction they used slingshots
to fire at anyone they saw passing.

At some point around 9:30 or so, the electricity was cut. This was the
sign that something was going to happen. People throw chains at the
electricity wires to short-circuit them. Often you could see a flash of
light in some distant area of Santiago, followed by sudden darkness in
that area and you knew the protests were about to begin there too.
People do this to make it harder for the police to spot them on the
street. What happened next could basically be described as an uneven
battle of the local youth with stones and insults on one side against
the police on the other who responded with tear gas and live
ammunition.

In other areas of Santiago however protesters were better armed. As
one local woman explained "In my neighbourhood, there was no cross
fire with the cops this year, but in many other places, people shoot the
police, and the police shoot back. This is specially true over the last
years. In the first years of democracy, people just threw stones, but
after some years receiving bullets back, people started shooting back
at the cops."

This year, unusually, no one was killed in the protests in Santiago.
Although there was no official number for all those injured, it was
reported that there were 24 wounded cops and more than 500 people
arrested. In the city of Concepcion 9 prisoners burnt to death in the
local jail, when during a protest for the 11th a fire broke out and they
were locked in.

On the following Sunday the traditional march to the cemetery in
Santiago took place. While the neighbourhood protests tend to involve
all the local disaffected youth, the march to the cemetery is made up
primarily of militants and all the left political groups and trade unions
are represented. For around 3 hours or so some 10,000 people follow
the police-lined roads to the main cemetery which holds the graves of
many of those who were murdered by Pinochet. As we neared the
cemetery amid the sound of revolutionary chants and songs, you
began to hear the sound of smashing glass as some of the protesters
threw stones at targeted businesses such as banks and multinational
fast-food outlets, which were ineffectually protected by rows of riot
police . At this stage all the street vendors were selling lemons for
relief from the tear gas which was inevitably soon to follow. When we
reached the gates of the cemetery people as people listened to
speeches, Molotov cocktails were thrown and through the smoke you
could just make out the ominous shape of several large armoured
police vehicles, waiting a little distance away. Suddenly a guanaco (a
large water canon truck) came flying round the corner spraying water.
This was immediately followed by rows of riot police who ran towards
us batons raised, grabbing people by the hair, hitting and arresting
them as they either fled or fought back as best they could in an
atmosphere thick with tear gas, fear and anger.

After maybe a half an hour or so things calmed down and people began
to drift away. Many people gathered around the tomb of Victor Jara,
the popular Chilean folk singer and guitar player, who was one of the
thousands of people rounded up when the coup occurred and brought
to the national stadium, where they smashed his hands, tortured and
finally executed him. Before leaving, people covered his grave with red
flowers and messages written on slips of paper.

DH

This is an extended version of the article that appeared in Workers
Solidarity No78, http://struggle.ws/wsm/ws/2003/index.html
see the PDF file http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf/ws/78.html for the version printed

Anarchism and the fight against Imperialism http://struggle.ws/wsm/imperialism.html
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