Let’s start this with a disclaimer. The information for this post has been obtained by listening to the stories of people who were in the Aysen region during the beginning of the protests as well as from various internet news sources. It is not intended to be a complete report of what is going on. It would be impossible for me as a tourist in this country to try to imagine how these issues affect the people of Chile. Surely the sentiments of those I talked to are influenced by their life experiences here, and I have no way to articulate that. So please read this as one small picture, a window into a world I am just passing through and trying to share with you.
(Speaking of pictures, I sadly don’t have any, and couldn’t find any that aren’t copyrighted. So, you should google ‘protests Aysen Chile, and then click on images. It’s worth it. I promise. But you can read this first…I mean, you’re already here and everything.)
Just three days after I left Coihaique local fishermen went on strike. At the time, and for at least some days following, the local news stations were reporting on the latest bikini fashions in Vina del Mar and Pucon. Life for an entire region of Chile was effectively halted, with roadblocks of protesters burning tires stopping all transit. Supplies in this remote part of the world began to dwindle; gasoline and food shortages quickly came into play. The women on the beach…well, I suppose they were prettier to look at.
Soon after the protests started other groups joined in, including Patagonia Sin Represas and Social Movement for the Aysén Region. People I met along the Carretera Austral and later in parts of Patagonian Argentina told stories of being stuck for days. Remember how hard it was for me to move through the region, and then multiply that by a lot. Few packed buses soon became no buses. One guy from the states who had been living in Coihaique walked for three days to Argentina, camping overnight in peoples pastures. Before he left he witnessed the brutality the police brought against the protesters, beating them with hard wooden clubs. From his account the protesters were not violent. Some members of Parliament condemned and criticized the police violence against the people of Aysen which had wounded at least 200 people by the middle of March.
The thrust of the uprising seems to really boil down to the region feeling neglected by the Chilean government. This is a sentiment I often ran into further South in Puerto Natales. The demands protesters have presented are the following: They want lower fuel and food costs (the region is isolated and access is difficult making the cost of living higher), better education, more job opportunities, and access to health care which is extremely limited in the region.
As of today, the protests that started in February are ongoing and encompass the entire region. The government and the media have taken notice. I have not seen a television in well over a month, but the newspapers are following the story and talks are underway to try and meet demands and stop the protests. According to news reports there is also an investigation underway against police officers for using unnecessary violence. There are as well reports of officers being injured as the protests have escalated. Of course we still don’t know what real change may be effected, but it seems like something is finally happening.
What I find myself wondering about this situation is whether anyone would have listened to the needs of these people if their actions had been more placid. Had they protested without blocking roadways, without halting the everyday lives of the region, without effectively shouting at the government to pay attention, would democracy have worked? Is an entirely peaceful demonstration enough to be noticed? As freedoms in the U.S. that our forefathers fought for are being stripped away from us, should the people protesting in our country be making a louder statement? What would happen if the highways to major cities were shut down, if we could amass that big of an army of protesters?
I would love to hear what you think.