FIFTY THOUSAND demonstrators greeted George Bush on his arrival in Santiago, Chile, for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting of 21 Pacific Rim nations.
At the largest and most militant demonstration since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, protesters called for an end to neo-liberal free trade agreements like those advanced by the APEC leaders.
The demonstrators carried banners proclaiming “No to the dictatorship of the market” and asserted that trade accords drive workers and peasants into a “Race to the bottom”.
The ire of many protesters centred on Bush and the war in Iraq. Chants of “Terrorist Bush!” and “Bush—fascist, thief, murderer!” rang through the air. Bush, on his first trip outside the US since the elections, found another unwanted answer to the question he posed in the aftermath of 9/11—“Why do they hate us?”
It is certainly not for “our freedoms” as Bush inanely asserts. Aside from the war in Iraq, many protesters in Chile are deeply hostile because the US backed a military coup on 11 September 1973 that took away their freedoms.
It deposed the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and marked the beginning of a 17-year dictatorship.
More than 3,000 people perished in the aftermath of the coup, another 35,000 were imprisoned and tortured. Even when Pinochet gave up the presidential sash in 1990 he continued to dominate the country’s politics as military commander in chief.
The US orchestrated a controlled “transition” in which a coalition of political parties took office. The Communist Party and other militant organisations on the left that had backed Allende were excluded.
This austere civilian order was shaken by Pinochet’s arrest in London in 1998 for crimes against humanity. The Chilean political establishment pressured judges to let him off the hook because he supposedly had “light dementia”. Events of the past year, however, have shaken the Chilean political system.
Earlier this month an official commission backed by human rights organisations presented a report detailing the abuses and torture committed against prisoners from 1973 to 1990.
Then in the last week the Supreme Court ruled that a clause in Pinochet’s constitution that exempted many members of his secret police from prosecution was invalid.
Municipal elections at the end of October have also given momentum to progressive forces in Chile. A left coalition led by Communist and humanist parties won almost 10 percent of the vote—the most since the days of Allende.
As the demonstrators greeting Bush showed, there is clearly a mass base for a new politics in Chile. Simultaneous with the APEC summit, 7,500 people attended workshops and seminars sponsored by the Chilean Social Forum.
The main theme of the forum was “Another world is possible”. It called on Chilean society to “carry on a debate of democratic ideas, related to unequal social relations, issues of gender, sustainable development and alternatives to globalisation”.
Roger Burbach is the author of The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice. He also co-authored with Jim Tarbell Imperial Overstretch: George W Bush and the Hubris of Empire.
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