An Amnesty for Chile’s Political Prisoners

The amnesty bill is a beginning, but Chileans have a long road ahead, Ramona Wadi writes.

When, in October 2019, Chileans across the country protested and called for a new constitution as well as right-wing Sebastian Pinera’s resignation, the state responded with violence, illustrating how neoliberal profit and repression of civilians are related.

Chile’s Constitutional Assembly is making inroads in altering the neoliberal politics which sustained the country’s transition to democracy since the fall of dictator Augusto Pinochet, yet the road ahead is fraught with the existing legacy of violence.

The rewriting of the Chilean constitution will be led by Elisa Loncon – a Mapuche and university professor. The choice is a far cry from Pinochet’s refusal to recognise the Mapuche as Chile’s indigenous population, which was established in a decree in 1978, in a bid to industrialise indigenous lands.

Loncon is adamant about the change which the new constitution should bring to Chile. “This convention today that I have the responsibility of presiding over will transform Chile, a plurinational Chile, an intercultural Chile, a Chile that does not go against the rights of women, the rights of citizens, a Chile that looks after Mother Earth, and a Chile that safeguards water against being dominated,” she stated.

Last week, the assembly debated an amnesty bill to free all of Chile’s political prisoners, including the Mapuche. Since Chile’s transition to democracy, the Mapuche have been targeted by Pinochet’s anti-terror laws, enacted in 1984 and exploited by governments to criminalise Mapuche resistance. The anti-terror laws allowed indefinite detention of the Mapuche, faceless witnesses and secret evidence to be used, in order to eliminate the right to cross-examination. Pinera’s electoral campaign in 2017 was partly built on his intent to reform the anti-terror laws to increase surveillance of indigenous communities.

The amnesty bill does not merely address the political prisoners’ current predicament. It is also a recognition of the Chilean state’s political repression since the dictatorship and the need to eliminate associated practices.

Both the dictatorship and the transition governments required measures that would protect the neoliberal model from social movements and indigenous mobilisation. Prior to Pinochet, the Mapuche people had already faced centuries of defending their land and people from colonisation and the Chilean state. With the privatisation of indigenous land for industrialisation, the earlier oppression and dispossession of the Mapuche continued, with no respite even during the transition to democracy, regardless of each elected government’s political leanings.

During the 2019 uprisings against Pinera, the arbitrary arrests and detention, not to mention torture, killings and disappearances of demonstrators, elicited dictatorship memories for many Chileans. The shared fate of Chileans and Mapuche, standing side by side and experiencing the same forms of violence by the Chilean state, has unified mobilisation for all of Chile’s political prisoners. The constitutional assembly has stated it cannot draft a new constitution while relics of the dictatorship and past governments are still present in the new society to be constructed.

The Mapuche, however, still face increased state repression. Last Friday, a Mapuche man was killed by the Chilean police in the Araucania region, in a confrontation at a forestry company on stolen indigenous land, where it is reported that a group of hooded men opened fire. Reports from the Chilean Prosecutor’s office identified the man as Ernesto Llaitul, the son of Mapuche leader Hector Llaitul.

The amnesty bill is a beginning, but Chileans have a long road ahead. The constitutional assembly is right when it states that past practices should not belong in the construction and development of a new Chilean society. However, the government, which incurred several political losses since the elections, is still holding on to power through repression. A new constitution requires new political thinking and implementation, to ensure a complete break with Chile’s dictatorship past.

An Amnesty for Chile’s Political Prisoners

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