Whither the Concertacion?

It was 23 years ago today that General Augusto Pinochet lost a one-man presidential plebiscite that would have extended his rule for another eight years, and a remarkable campaign for a “no” vote against him managed to hang together in a center-left coalition that would win four elections. But times have changed, a crafty and energetic businessman/economist now occupies the presidency and the leaders of the Concertacion de Partidos por la Democracia are meeting to discuss the future.

Socialist Party president Osvaldo Andrade told Radio Cooperative that his coalition’s governments marked the end of dictatorship, but were not able to muster enough energy to seriously address Chile’s social inequalities.  October 5, the anniversary of the dictator’s electoral defeat, should produce a renewed commitment to do so, he said.

While the Concertacion’s leaders are mulling these matters, representatives of Chile’s student federation were due to meet with education ministry officials.  Whatever the outcome, they and the teachers’ union were going ahead with plans for another mass demonstration this week. The Associated Press reports that University of Chile student president Camila Vallejo “handles a microphone as if she were born with it” and has a Twitter audience of nearly 300,000.  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jj5MtpfAn19p7YWlOIxU5OaTo52w?docId=70f2008f5bbd4c8ea1c31f5efda07e2e

It is worth remembering that the first nationwide student protests began under the last of the  Concertacion governments, with little resolution. To make matters worse, the education minister was impeached when it was revealed that her department had such sloppy bookkeeping practices that it could not account for $600 million in public funds.

Meanwhile, President Sebastian Pinera’s approval ratings have registered a slight improvement—from 27 percent to 30 percent, according to the latest Adimark poll. His defense minister Andres Allamand, whose public profile was raised during last month’s rescue operations following the Juan Fernandez air crash, has become the most popular cabinet minister, with a 78 percent approval rating.  The same poll revealed that an increasing majority of Chileans back the students’ demands—79 percent, a three point increase since August—but are less supportive of their tactics, with only 49 percent approving of the mass demonstrations. http://www.adimark.cl/es/estudios/documentos/0_9_ev_gob_sept2011_.pdf.


Chile faces a two-day national strike this week called by student organizations, labor unions and several center-left political parties who are demanding a new constitution, education and labor reforms and increased health care spending.  The last time any civic or political groups called for a national strike was during the Pinochet regime in 1983, and for obvious reasons today’s protesters are less easily intimidated.

But things are already getting ugly.  One student protester on a hunger strike is in critical condition, and Chile’s Supreme Court has ordered police protection for Camila Vallejo, president of the University of Chile’s student federation, and her family. Vallejo has received death threats through social networks and earlier this month a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Culture sent a Twitter message with a phrase used by General Augusto Pinochet: If you kill the bitch, you get rid of the litter. The official was quickly removed from her post, though she denied the message was referring to Vallejo.

Inflammatory language has also surfaced in statements by some in the protest movement.  The president of Chile’s teachers union, Jaime Gajardo, compared police measures to control demonstrations to “Zionist methods of apartheid” and that they were typical of “Zionist movements.” Gajardo’s comments were interpreted as reference to Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter, who is Jewish, and came under heavy fire from both conservatives and protest organizers.  The president of the Catholic University student federation said Gajardo’s statements “did not represent the student movement,” while a right-wing congressman said the statements demonstrate why Chile’s public education system is so bad. Gajardo later apologized.

Stay tuned.