Yesterday I attended an emergency rally in solidarity with the people of Chile brought on by the severe repression of the Pinera government with many Chileans murdered and imprisoned. The rally was well attended by the young, women, indigenous Mapuche, and the second wave of Chilean exilios that came to Brisbane in the 1980s. An earlier solidarity demonstration was held at South Bank during the week.
Sadly the first wave of exiles that came after the coup in 1973 were not well represented.
Pots & pans rang out across Brisbane Square in front of the casino sounding out people’s dissatisfaction with the turn of events this week. Chile, like Australia, is a country with a big middle class and is often used as a model of economic reform for the Americas. Yet now it has erupted into mass demonstrations and looting as a direct result of economic inequality and state repression. The poor have run out of choices …
The rally wavered between political demonstration, dance, songs of unity and solidarity mixed in with football nationalism. People yelled out: Give me a C – H – I – L – E. What does it spell? Viva Chile! responds the crowd of about 300 people. The rally poster said to bring only Chilean flags. Thankfully that did not exclude Mapuche and Aboriginal flags.
There are many Chileans in Brisbane and Queensland. By chance twice this week I have been to cafe’s (Queens Street CBD & Millmerran on the Darling Downs) where Chilean women have worked or owned the business. They were proud of their country despite its checkered history of military dictatorship and genocidal put down of the large indigenous population, the Mapuche, especially in the south of a country. Chile stretches north and south along the west coast of Latin America.
Despite this, even the Brisbane Left, seems unaware of the significant place Chile has in our own history. They appear to know less about the struggle of the Mapuche people. One Australian Leftie actually asked me: “Who are the Mapuche, are they some sort of Indian?” He wasn’t trying to be racist, he simply did not know the 500 years of resistance by a people who form a considerable percentage of the population.
In 1904, Chris Watson became the first Labor Prime Minister of Australia. He was born in Chile. His right to be in parliament was challenged. There was direct Australian involvement in the military coup in Chile in 1973 with our intelligence organisations working in with the CIA to get rid of the socialist government of Unidad Popula. After the coup Alan Bond bought a controlling stake in the Chile’s national telephone company. I became aware of the antipathy of the Labor Party to international solidarity in 1978 when the local Labor leadership refused to have a Chilean speaker on the annual May Day platform in the Exhibition grounds. Yet international solidarity was present enough for the platform to be stormed when the Labor ‘old guard’ started saying the Queensland anti-uranium and democratic rights movement were a bunch ‘Johnny-come-latelys’.
The Left in Australia and elswhere had been schooled in the failure of the parliamentary road by the Chilean experiment of Unidad Popula where democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende was deposed by a military junta that murdered thousands leaving blood on the streets and in the football stadiums. And only a few years later the modest reform government of Gough Whitlam was deposed in a bloodless coup. It was from Chile that I learn’t about counter demonstrations by the middle class against Allende with their pots and pans, something that happened also in Venezuela and in Cuba.
So it was with some unease I heard the call for pots and pans to be brought to the rally this time. Nevertheless the call for people to be peaceful and to “bring good vibe’s” was respected. Until a former army member who had lived in Australia for some time spoke about the army taking over. After he left, he was approached by a member of the Chilean Communist Party whom he shunned telling him to go away. The speaker looked decidedly uncomfortable owning up to having links with the army. For some reason he wanted to petition the British government to prevent another military coup and more blood on the streets. The man may be suffering from mental instability, I don’t know, his politics were strange.
I approached the organisers suggesting that we march to provide a greater profile for our solidarity on the streets of Brisbane. They declined saying police would not give them permission to march. They no doubt were quoting police misconception that you require a permit to march – despite it recently having been disproved by local Councillor for the Gabba, Jonathan Sri. The organizers were unaware that a public assembly is an authorised public assembly in Queensland if “a notice of intention to hold the assembly has been given (to police & local authority)” and the notice fulfills some formalities eg name, place, numbers, route, when and where etc.
So a chance to put a strong message on the streets of Brisbane was lost. This should not be interpreted as criticism of the organisers. The application for the rally was made by an older woman who has been in Brisbane since 1988. Police told her that it was a permit system. This is nonsense. I am merely alerting people to the struggles that have gone on here (over 3,000 arrests) that fought against a permit system for marching and for the system that we have – a notification system.
The main message I got from the rally was that:
- Chilean army must be removed from the streets immediately;
- the 1982 constitution must be rescinded;
- the Pinera government must resign; and,
- a new parliament must be formed to rid the country of inequality.
I am reminded of the coup of 1973 and the blood that flowed when the military took control. This must be stopped from ever happening again. Para Que Nunca Mas en Chile!
Here is a testimony of a worker at that time:
‘That was the worst moment of my life. If we had been discovered we would have been shot in the act, those were Pinochet’s orders. And it would have been a useless death because when we reached the place where we thought we were going to find the rest of the resistance there were only soldiers, the whole sector was surrounded by the military.‘