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Chile Woke Up! Activists show solidarity with protestors facing human rights violations

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Taken during interview by author

Michael R Williams interviews Chile Woke Up! Brisbane to hear about the violent Chilean protests and why Chilean Australians are lending their voice to this movement.

IN CHILE the working and under classes have been taking to the streets to fight against their country’s dire austerity crisis. They titled the movement, Chile Woke Up! and in both Chile and around the world people are barracking under that designation. 

We [Chileans in Australia] had to do something physical to support our country,” says Marcelina Cornejo on starting the solidarity group. She is a long-time activist that moved to Australia during the Pinochet regime. “It’s about raising awareness [of the human rights violations].”

Within only a generation, Chileans are being forced once again to take to the streets in order to protest against an unjust government. “We are here because we are seeing history repeat itself,” says student Yari Silva-Cabazas. “Trauma is resurfacing amongst the elders of our community. It affects us, because we still have family back home.”

The group wishes to raise awareness not only of the atrocities back home, but also about how Australia and Australians can make a difference.

“We want the Australian community to see what is happening in Chile, because we can see, from what is happening over there, that this country is also heading in that direction.”

“[Australians] are indirectly involved with the abuses of the Chilean public. We actually have a lot of free trade agreements with Chile. A lot of our wine, berries and avocados come from Chile.”

“Yeah, I am from the time of the dictator,” adds Cornejo. “I can see those stories repeating.”

The protests began after a price hike on subway fares in Santiago. Many students had already been dodging fares, but with the new hikes they had been given even more of an excuse. Police met fare dodgers with brutality, including the use of tear gas. This spiked months of protests from many Chilean communities, including those that were not your typical student activists. President Sebastian Pinera eventually rolled back the fare hike, but at that point it was too late — the protestors wanted more, including the improvement of retirement plans, to end austerity measures and to better the lot of the Chilean First People, the Mapuche. 

“The Australian Government is ignoring what is going on in Chile. You turn on the news today and there is nothing about what’s going on in Chile. We have [ties with] the biggest mines in Chile and we are making millions of dollars off of their resources. The resources that should be for the Chilean people," says Cornejo.

“I love this country [Australia], for we have a proper democracy, but we should have responsibility for our behaviours as well.”

Cabazas added:

"From the very little coverage of Chile, they made it look like the protestors were vandals.”

Some Australian politicians, however, have been willing to help.

“We were interviewed by Larissa Waters and she met our demands, and she had a speech in Parliament. We are hoping something comes out of that, but she is only one girl in a large parliament,” says Cornejo.

“We think it’s important to raise true awareness about Chile around the world,” says Camilla Carracso. “The Chilean [MSM] news is spreading misinformation.”

The activists of Chile Woke Up! want to pressure the U.N. and the Australian Government, as a founder of the U.N., to intervene. “It’s about [the U.N.'s] international laws: making peace, maintaining peace and supporting disarmament and marshal law. The UN can intervene with these laws in Chile. Not to mention the sexual violence. There is cause for the U.N. to step in on those grounds.”

There was an Amnesty International report about the human rights violations occuring in Chile, but President Pinera refused to acknowledge it.

The Chilean protests have begun to become more and more violent.

It’s become excessive over time — rapes, murders even,” says Sara Vilugron.

“The violence used by law enforcement has affected the whole community. Those underage, those disabled. Attending demonstrations is no longer a human right, but a life risk.”

"But they have to do it because of the extreme wealth inequality. The minimum wage in Chile is $600 a month, but the cost of living is about the same as it is in Australia.”

According to Business Insider, it was actually US$470. Pinera states he is willing to raise the minimum wage, but protestors are unsatisfied and sceptical.

“We’re the living dead,” says Silva-Cabazas. “It’s gotten to the point where people are no longer afraid to die. People are using credit cards to buy bread. It’s gotten that bad.”

More than 4,000 people have been detained.

Indeed, Pinera declared war on his own people:

“We are at war with a people who are willing to use violence without any limits.”

Fernanda Ulloa, a Chilean exchange student, will have to return to Chile once her visa is complete. She says that she fears what will happen to her when she inevitably has to return to the streets.  

If you would like to help the activists at Chile Woke Up! there Facebook page is here. They are specifically looking for printing supplies. 

You can follow associate editor Michael R Williams on Twitter and Instagram @editorscribble.

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