(TMU Op-Ed) — Since October 14, the South American nation of Chile has been in the grips of massive unrest that has threatened to topple the right-wing government of President Sebastian Piñera.
The protests, which began with student-led demonstrations against an increase in mass transportation fares, quickly spiraled into a nationwide movement against high costs of living, austerity measures, and massive inequality in a country that had once been seen as an economic success story in Latin America.
The unrest rapidly took a violent turn as some protesters fought back against the country’s heavily militarized police force, leading the president to hastily declare a state of emergency on Saturday while declaring curfews.
And while some protesters clashed with police and military, many peaceful protesters faced indiscriminate beatings and violence—including being fired on with tear gas, rubber bullets, and seemingly deadly firearms—at the hands of the police and military. Others have reported that Chileans are being tortured by state security forces.
According to officials, at least 18 people have been killed—including minors—while hundreds have been injured, and over 5,000 have been detained. Independent groups and unverified reports have warned, however, that the official numbers may merely be the tip of the iceberg.
The mass violence is easily the worst the country has seen since the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet came to a halt in 1990, and coverage of the events has dominated headlines across Latin America and much of the rest of the world.
Yet in the United States, media reports about the protests have been hard to find—with coverage instead being devoted to comparatively mundane news such as the never-ending drama surrounding the Democratic presidential primaries, Donald Trump’s Ukraine “quid-pro-quo,” U.K. royals, and the latest Star Wars trailer.
However, the events in Chile could have a ripple effect across Latin America, with repercussions lasting decades. Here are some of the reasons why the unfolding protests in Chile are one of the hemisphere’s most important events in recent years.
1. The Protests Prove That Washington’s “Miracle of Chile” Was a Neoliberal Illusion
The country has long been touted in U.S. foreign policy circles as “The Miracle of Chile,” with right-wing economists portraying the country’s development as a triumph of free market economics, even though this came at the cost of a brutal 17-year military dictatorship under the Pinochet regime.
Since the relatively peaceful transition to democracy in the early 1990s, however, Chile’s “economic miracle” has led to one of the highest rates of economic inequality in the region and has the widest wealth disparity among members of the OECD group of high-income countries. This has, in turn, led to widespread desperation on the part of working people.
As Bloomberg wrote:
“Chile has been seen as the living embodiment of the economic policies installed under Pinochet by the ‘Chicago Boys’—a group of economists, many of whom had been trained in free-market ideas at the University of Chicago … The fact that Chileans have revolted against the cost of living, then, is alarming, and suggests a similar situation could more easily happen in the rest of the developing world. Many assumed that insurrections like this would follow hard on the heels of the Great Recession; instead that moment seems to have been delayed amid a decade of slow recovery, but also deepening inequality.”
Economist Jeffery Sachs put it simply:
“Because of very high housing prices, most people are pushed away from the central business districts and typically depend on personal vehicles or public transport to get to work. Much of the public may thus be especially sensitive to changes in transportation prices, as shown by the explosion of protests in Paris and Santiago.”
As protester Juan Carlos Giordano told Democracy Now:
“They talked about a Chilean economic miracle, until it all exploded. They raised the subway fares. There was a rejection, and the government reversed itself. But the capitalist plans are terrible. The people say they don’t have access to water, to electricity. Everything costs the prices of the First World, and the salaries are in the Third World.”
2. The Extreme Brutality Toward Protests is a Product of US-Backed Fascism and Israeli Training
Since the protests began, Latin American social media has been awash in gut-wrenching footage of police firing live ammunition at peaceful protesters; wantonly beating citizens, including children; dumping bodies from police vehicles at night; and generally engaging in a frenzy of violence toward Chileans.
Much of this violence is rooted in the country’ dictatorship era, when U.S.-backed dictator Pinochet locked up, disappeared, tortured, and executed members of the left-wing socialist, communist, and Mapuche indigenous opposition.
However, as Benjamin Zinevich of the Independent wrote in an important report published Tuesday, the tactics are also a result of Israeli training of Chilean security forces:
“In recent years, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has seemingly used a tactic of maiming Palestinian protesters rather than lethally shooting them. For more than a year now, Palestinian civilians have marched towards the Gaza wall in protest of Israeli occupation, and the IDF has shot nearly 60 per cent of these 10,511 civilians in the lower limbs, with more than 90 per cent of casualties coming from live ammunition.
During the past week, these Israeli tactics have been used on Chilean civilians on multiple reported occasions. One woman has been shot in the thigh and was reported in critical condition due to excessive bleeding. In another, a 23-year-old man was shot in the leg before a military vehicle crushed him to death.
These similar tactics are no coincidence, and are internationally a part of what activist groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace have named ‘the deadly exchange.’ In the United States, municipal police, ICE agents, and other security agents routinely train alongside the IDF, sharing tactics and weaponry that can encourage racial profiling, extrajudicial killings, and increased surveillance on both countries’ most marginalized groups.”
3. Chile’s Protests May Have Averted a Live-Fire War on Venezuela
Buried in the fast-developing drama swirling through South America over the past few weeks is the fact that on the very day that the massive crisis erupted in Chile’s capital of Santiago, the country’s foreign minister essentially threatened to lead a war on Venezuela.
A Financial Times story from Oct. 14 reported:
“Chile’s foreign minister has vowed to work with allies to cut off Venezuela’s communications, shut down its air space and implement a naval blockade if Nicolás Maduro refuses to hold free elections.
Amid an escalating humanitarian crisis that is destabilizing the region, causing more than 4m Venezuelans to emigrate, “ever stricter” measures must be taken to put pressure on Caracas to comply with demands to restore democratic order, Teodoro Ribera said.
… Chile’s hardening stance towards Venezuela comes as Sebastian Piñera, the center-right president, takes on a stronger leadership role in the region and beyond.”
However, in a seeming repeat of the “Assad Must Go” meme—which has seen leaders calling for the ouster of the Syrian leader successively be deposed or outlasted by him—Piñera now finds himself on the ropes and in a potentially weaker position than the embattled Maduro.
Toda mi solidaridad con el noble pueblo chileno, quienes se encuentran en resistencia contra las criminales políticas neoliberales implementadas por el capitalismo. Abogo por el cese de la violencia y la brutal represión que vulnera los DD.HH. de la población. ¡Un Abrazo Chile! pic.twitter.com/fnFgVM5giU
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) October 20, 2019
Venezuela’s president has relished this turning of the tables, mocking Piñera as a wannabe Pinochet or “Piñechet” and saying:
“They are telling you it is no longer about 30 pesos (fare increase), it is 30 years! It is about education, it is about health, it is electricity, it is gas, it is transportation, it is work, it is wages, it’s discrimination, it’s inequality, this is what the people of Chile are telling Piñechet!”
4. The Protests Have Exposed U.S. Hypocrisy Over Human Rights and Democracy, Once Again
The extremely violent force meted out to protesters has largely been greeted by silence from Piñera’s allies in Washington.
This hasn’t failed to go unnoticed in countries like China or Venezuela, who have either faced sanctions or the threat of sanctions for their actions suppressing unrest within their own countries.
Speaking to reporters Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the response by Western countries to the protests showed how their democracy and human rights concerns “are only a hypocritical cover” for their interventionist urges in places like Hong Kong. She poetically added:
“Judging from the relevant developments in recent days and the performance of some Western politicians, more and more people have come to realize that ‘human rights,’ ‘democracy’ and ‘beautiful sights’ preached by some Western politicians are just illusory as a mirage in the desert or the Sirens’ song on the sea. Those who cannot distinguish right from wrong and stand firm will only end up getting lost and destructed.”
5. It Proves That the Workers and Poor in Latin America Are Still a Major Force to be Reckoned With
While the protests began as a rejection of a 30 peso rise in transit fare—and concerted fare-dodging or #EvasionMasiva by students—working-class and poor Chileans are now protesting water shortages, university debt, poor healthcare, bad pensions, destructive mining, miserable wages, and every other social grievance imaginable.
This has manifested itself in tens of thousands of people protesting, doing battle with the state, the looting of over 100 Walmarts, and the country basically exploding into full-scale rebellion.
President Piñera is now gasping for air as the protests show no sign of ending. The president has apologized and is offering to increase pensions by 20 percent, cover the cost of medical treatments, tax higher income earners while offering new subsidies to improve living conditions, alongside other social reforms.
But this will be far from satisfying for the radicalized poor in Chile, who are demanding that Piñera resign. And as La Iguana TV reports, social movements and trade unions are also forming a Constituent Assembly that would be tasked with writing a new constitution that would replace the post-Pinochet one that opened the door to the militarization of the streets.
And a general strike shutting down the country’s economy could lead to the people of Chile winning their demands.
In the end, the government’s inability to take poor Chileans’ needs into consideration is what sparked the present crisis. Speaking to the Clinic, one retired citizen summed up the popular mood succinctly:
“Unfortunately in World War II to defeat Hitler’s people, cities had to die, right?
“If we don’t f*** s*** up, we don’t exist to them.”
Akon Finally Breaks Ground On His Futuristic $10 Billion Solar Powered “Crypto City”
The rapper, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Akon has been making significant progress on his development plans in Africa, which involve the creation of a futuristic city that runs on clean energy and cryptocurrency.
In January of last year, Akon revealed that his agreements with Senegal President Macky Sall were going forward, and a few months later it was announced that the engineering and consulting firm KE International was awarded a $6 billion contract to build the city. The company previously said it had already received $4 billion from investors for the first two phases of Akon City’s construction, giving the project a price tag of at least $10 billion.
The project goes much further than just this one city and it has already begun to make an impact across the continent. In the short time since the deal was finalized last year, a large number of solar street lights, and solar home lighting units, have been installed across 14 African countries, according to Akon Lighting Africa.
The effort was made possible by a private-public partnership model and a well-established network of partners including SOLEKTRA INT, SUMEC, and NARI.
Phase 1 of construction on the city is expected to be completed in 2023, and will include roads, a hospital, residences, hotels, a police station, a waste facility, a school, and a solar power plant. The entire city is expected to be finished around 2029. The city’s economy will be facilitated by Akon’s cryptocurrency “Akoin,” which runs on the Stellar blockchain. Stellar is a crypto ecosystem that includes its own cryptocurrency XLM, and also allows for the development of other projects, such as decentralized exchanges and additional currencies like Akoin. Banks around the world have also been considering using the Stellar blockchain for stablecoin deployment.
Akon believes that cryptocurrency is the solution to the corruption problems that create widespread inequality in Africa because the blockchain provides a record that would make corruption extremely obvious if it were to take place. With an independent cryptocurrency, governments are unable to print money and devalue the currency, and the control of the money is decentralized.
In an interview with TMZ last year, Akon compared the vision that he has for the city with the fictional “Wakanda” from the movie Black Panther.
“This movie literally made an idea of what Africa could really be. It’s just ironic that I was already working on this before the movie came out, but it’s something that helped me a lot when I was trying to explain to explain to people what I was trying to do,” Akon said.
The city’s crypto-economic system will also solve many problems specific to the developing world, like instantly calculating conversation rates for currencies, which is often an obstacle because there are so many different regional currencies and methods of trade. In some cases, people even use prepaid cellphone minutes as a currency because it is easier to use and exchange than traditional currencies. Akon says that the Akoin wallet will allow users to trade between cryptocurrencies, fiat currencies, and cellphone minutes instantly without having to go through a major exchange using Atomic Swap technology. The app will also teach users to become more familiar with the technology in general.
Florida Man Uses Stimulus Check to Start Thriving Home Garden to Feed His Community
When millions of people across the United States received their federal stimulus checks to help them cope with the devastating economic repercussions of the novel coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown, most people spent their checks on basic necessities like food, rent, mortgage, utilities, and other basic necessities
However, one man from East Tampa, Florida, decided to use his funds to invest in a much more long-term project: building his own garden at home and using it to help provide food for himself. He’s now teaching his community about the massive benefits of food independence.
Michael Chaney, who goes by the nickname “Spirit Mike,” has long been interested in gardening. It wasn’t until the pandemic struck and local supermarkets were struck by the crisis that he was able to muster the self-motivation and time to fully pursue what began as a hobby and now has turned into his passion.
When he received his first stimulus check, he immediately used the funds to purchase some pots and start growing his first tomato plant. He also spoke to seasoned gardeners at the nearby A Land of Delight Natural Farm to pick up some materials and advice that would enable him to begin growing his own food, he told local radio station WMNF.
Now, Chaney is growing not only tomatoes but also collard greens, ghost peppers, mustard greens, strawberry guava, eggplants, onions, papaya, cashew apples, sugar cane, lemon, yucca, and lettuce, among other plants on his .3 acres of land.
“I do biointensive gardening, which means planting as much as you can in a small space,” Chaney told Atlanta Black Star. “I specifically picked these types of fruits [dwarf plants] because they grow fruit fast.”
Chaney derives the most pride from his moringa trees, which he values for its high viamin C content and celebrated medicinal properties as well as its antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antidepressant qualities.
“That is the Michael Jordan and the Kobe Bryant together,” Chaney told WMNF with pride.
“If you were stranded somewhere and all you have his this and water you would not only survive, you would thrive,” Chaney added. “I don’t work out. All I did was add this to my diet and add flax seed fiber and I lost 65 lbs.”
Chaney also has nine chickens that he purchased for only $3 per chick.
“My aim is to make my food cost zero,” he explained. “So, my food scraps go into the soldier fly larvae bin, they eat that and produce more larvae. Those larvae get fed to the chickens. The chicken produces eggs, I sell the eggs and eat the eggs; life is good.”
Chaney made sure to meticulously plan his garden so that actually managing it and ensuring its success would be much easier.
“It’s very important that you plan your garden. Do your research before you put a dollar down because you want your dollar to go as far as it can,” Chaney said.
He is now upholding the garden – which he has named New World Growers – as an example of community self-determination and food independence at a time when food insecurity is sharply on the rise.
Edward Snowden Applies For Russian Citizenship As He Announces He’s About To Be A Dad
U.S. NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden has announced that he is going to be a dad and that he has applied for Russian citizenship due to the coming change in his life. Snowden said the move is to prevent separation from his unborn son.
Snowden and his wife are applying for Russian citizenship in order not to be separated from their future son in an era of pandemics and closed borders, he said on Monday. Snowden’s wife, Lindsay, is expecting a child in late December, the RIA news agency said, citing his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, Reuters reported.
Snowden fled the U.S. and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret NSA files in 2013 that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the U.S. National Security Agency where he was a contractor. Snowden exposed various capabilities by the NSA by revealing various extensive privacy violations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently found one such program was unlawful and that the U.S. intelligence directors who publicly defended it had lied to the public. The court determined that the warrantless telephone dragnet that secretly collected millions of Americans’ telephone records violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
U.S. authorities have for years wanted Snowden to return to the U.S. to face criminal charges on espionage brought against him in 2013.
“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our son. That’s why, in this era of pandemics and closed borders, we’re applying for dual US-Russian citizenship,” Snowden wrote on Twitter. “Lindsay and I will remain Americans, raising our son with all the values of the America we love, including the freedom to speak his mind. And I look forward to the day I can return to the States, so the whole family can be reunited. Our greatest wish is that, wherever our son lives, he feels at home.”
Russia has already granted Snowden permanent residency rights, his lawyer said last month, a requisite step towards Russian citizenship.
Snowden’s wife recently publicly announced her pregnancy last week in a photograph posted to Instagram. “A long time in the making,” she wrote. “Our greatest collaboration coming soon.” Snowden said; despite applying for Russian citizenship, he hopes to one day return to the U.S. to reunite his family.
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