Chilean exiles and their supporters protested in London last Friday in solidarity with peasants fighting to survive an environmental disaster in southern Chile.
President Michelle Bachelet was visiting Britain to win support from businesses. Meanwhile in Chile fisher folk are blockading the island of Chiloe in protest at the meagre compensation they have been offered after fish stocks were wiped out.
The “Red Tide” blooms of toxic algae has been blamed for ecological destruction in southern Chile in recent weeks. They are a recurring natural phenomenon linked to the El Nino weather system
But big salmon farms dumped tens of thousands of tonnes of rotting salmon into the sea in March. Local people and Greenpeace believe this is to blame and demand an investigation.
Their livelihoods destroyed, Chiloe’s fishing communities face the threat of starvation. But the government has offered only £300 each in compensation—not enough to survive on. Almost the whole population in some areas has joined protests including a blockade of the island.
Around 70 people joined a noisy protest at Mansion House in central London where Bachelet attended a “Chile Day” event for businesses.
Carole Concha Bell told Socialist Worker, “The issue with the contaminated salmon is a symptom of the crass, neoliberal constitution inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship. Private firms are allowed to do what they want.”
Western-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile through torture and repression until 1990—and remained commander of its armed forces until 1998.
The salmon crisis hits a region where the Chilean army has already been repressing the indigenous Mapuche. Carole said, “They basically sent dogs and tanks to deal with these people, meanwhile Bachelet is swanning around Europe saying how modern and democratic Chile is.”
The protest at Mansion House followed a smaller one at Downing Street over the dictatorship’s continuing legacy of impunity and repression.
Carole, whose relatives were among the thousands tortured and “disappeared” by the regime, explained, “The constitution was drawn up by the dictatorship.
“It guaranteed that none of the military men would go to prison. There are people who have to walk around the same villages as their torturers. There are no answers about what happened to the disappeared.
“There’s a lot of disappointment with Bachelet. She calls herself a socialist, and her father was tortured to death by the dictatorship. But she hasn’t had the courage to take on Pinochet’s constitution.