Chile’s Constitutional Elections: ‘This Continues, But We Won’t Stop Taking to the Streets’

In the context of Chile’s recent elections for the Constitutional Convention, we spoke with Nuriluz Hermosilla Osorio, archaeologist, one of three spokespersons of the Coordinadora Feminista 8M, and member of the Social-Environmental Committee, and the Human Rights and Feminist Memory Committee.

-What is the significance of the recent triumphs for the women of the Constitutional Convention, for feminists, Indigenous women, and for environmentalists?

-This is another milestone in what has been a long and hard road. Above all, hard, with many dead and mutilated. It is a struggle that the Mapuche peoples have been carrying out for a long time, opposing institutionalization and fighting for the return of their lands, with greater force now that extractivists are installed with energy projects, salmon-farming projects, and forestry projects. These extractivists are putting in place an environment of pauperization for the Mapuche people and the mestizo peasantry in the Wallmapu territories.

We are a people in revolt since October 19, 2019. We are in permanent revolt. We have been affected by a government that has oppressed us, and continues to, and this system has been created for the Convention, to change the constitution—Pinochet’s constitution, which we have had for 40 years.

In this framework, with the people who are constantly being repressed, we are fighting for hundreds of young people who are still in prison, under protective measures, for having thrown stones at the police, for the women who have been raped, for the more than 600 cases of ocular trauma, those who have lost one or both eyes. In this environment, our decision to participate in the constituent process was not easy.

Within our system of decision making, which is to make decisions in assemblies, the assemblies did not have a collective opinion about going to a constituent process. However, it was decided to follow the two paths: to continue in the struggle, not to quit the street mobilizations, and at the same time to participate in this constitutional process.

-How many feminist women showed up?

-We participated as the Feminist Coordinating Committee with five candidates, plus a group of 15 feminist candidates from all over the country, who came from the Indigenous movement or environmental, anti-capitalist and anti-extractivist movements. In that sense, the triumph was not only in the results, but in the process of building this discourse to affirm who we are and what our struggle is.

These are anti-racist struggles, in favor of migration—we are with the invisibilized work of women, with care work, affirming life, instead of the precarity to which we have been subjected—we are all subjected, as women and as gender non-conformists.

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The pandemic arrived and exacerbated this situation, and reinforced that the only way to get ahead is with the sayings that we have in the streets: “only the people help the people.” In addition, in the sense of women’s work, which we have always defended: care work.

This was a period of hard work. We had to carry out these campaigns in parallel with the comrades’ campaigns, and continue the struggle in the street, with vulnerable sectors of the population. This caused a lot of tensions. But in my assessment, it was a great triumph. As for the people who woke up a year and a half ago, it represented a strengthening. This was demonstrated not only with our results, which were not so great, because five out of 15 that we ran in the constituents got in. The gap has not only narrowed, but there is a center party, the yellow party of the Christian groups, which is disappearing, it is fluttering to death. In addition, the independent movements achieved more than 40 seats. They are movements such as the List of the People, they are lists that do not have any connection with political parties.

On the other hand, there are the seats of the Indigenous communities, where 17 people are elected, 15 of whom are women and are in themselves true symbolic bulwarks of the struggle. We know them, they are reliable, incorruptible people, who support this struggle from the territories.

Elisa Loncon is a Mapuche activist, a professor of linguistics and a fighter for the linguistic rights of the Mapuche peoples. There is Machi Francisca Linconao, the only woman who has won an international lawsuit against the government, which led to her imprisonment and persecution. There are many people of great courage. Adolfo Millabur, mayor of Tirúa for a long time, is very loved by his people. This is a battle that is just beginning.

The right wing brought out some constituents who are from the hardest core of the right-wing government, such as Marcela Cubillos, who was with the rejection vote [during the 2020 Constitutional plebiscite]. She wants to keep Pinochet’s constitution, and she will be fighting for that. Here we are facing a kind of explosion on behalf of women. It meant that there were many more women than we could have, so we had to give way to men. There were eight men who moved up because of the parity quota and four women who changed the quota.

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-We know that parity does not mean that all women agree. You named one from the right and we have examples such as Michelle Bachelet, who is the symbol of betrayal as a woman and for human rights, especially if you think about where she came from. The question is: Will it be possible to promote a popular Constitution, taking into account the presence in the Convention of people from the right and also some from the left who supported the Concertación [Coalition of Parties for Democracy] all these years?

-I trust so. To what extent are we going to be able to fulfill these anti-capitalist yearnings? We want everything to go up in flames, we want this terrible oppressive system to end. It is important not to be overconfident, not to be triumphalist. Here, as you say, betrayal is behind every tree. There are leftist parties that are riding on this triumph, and have brought out beautiful people, young people, and women from the Broad Front, Socialists, the Communist Party, who have been successful. They are people who represent change, they are not the corrupt from before, Lagos or Bachelet. But the pressure from the current government and the businessmen is very strong. We have to be on alert.

I was highlighting the Indigenous constituents, they are very reliable people, and some of the Mapuches who were right-wing were left behind. But in the rest of the range, we know that patriarchal conventions are strong at work in the Socialist Party. Whoever does reach the party command by climbing the ranks, it is likely that women will be left by the wayside.

They are proposing candidates in whom one does not trust. The one who left Bachelet to be a candidate for the presidency, I have no doubt that she is a nice person, but she will not be able to govern if she is elected. The old structures of the party that are linked to businessmen, members of the boards of directors of companies, will do so.

We have to maintain the lucidity and clarity that the struggle gives us. It is given to us by the defense of human rights, and it is given to us by the detainees, the disappeared, that push us not only not to be naïve, but to keep our eyes on how politics develops on all sides. The side that has their vocation in business, in the stock market, that have that vocation for 24 hours a day, they have many people, among them career politicians, who if they have their business, they are not going to let go of it. That has to be clear: they will not leave out of goodwill, and they will not give up their businesses, whether they have to send the police to gouge out our eyes, or whether they have to put tanks out on the street. In that sense, this game requires a lot of restraint, but we do trust our candidates.

-What about the enormous number of people who did not vote: 60%. I suppose many have rejected bourgeois politics and electoralism, and many no longer believe in anything and are indifferent. How do you see it?

-People want the struggle to evolve as we have always developed it. We are a people with clean hands, we don’t mess with arms dealers, we play war with stones and scribbles, we insult them and that’s all there is to it. There are many people who have suffered a lot with the pandemic, with this health administration, and they believe that things are not going to change. They are convinced that we are all the same. Even when we go out [campaigning] with the candidates we feel rejected: “Ah, you are a candidate! Ah, I don’t have time, bye.”

It was costly to demonstrate in the streets, with conversations arising that it was necessary to come to power, not to appropriate but to give back the hand to the people, and to represent what the people need. This is a very significant paradigm shift. Progress is being made, but it is slow. Each time there is a new betrayal, the people end up in pain again, and they end up losing trust.

And in this they are right. If someone had died in their family—despite the efforts of healthcare workers, people are dying in exorbitant numbers—you cannot ask them to have trust. You have the media telling only one version of the story the entire time, their version, that we are violent. So they have a fear for what might happen, and then they withdraw.

-On the other hand, we have seen many fascist aggressions in the streets.

-Yes, there is an atmosphere of fascism in the streets. They are very good at confusing the people, they come out with their anti-political discourse and they make people confused, they come out with an anti-Venezuelan discourse and people get confused. So, this fascism did not manage to get a constituent assembly, but it does have power within the current government. This influence is quite silent and hidden, because there are some who were leftists, who fell into the hands of the dictatorship, then they were agents of the security services, and now they are part of the image consultants of this right-wing government, and they are circulating there. It is a very bad environment.

There are those visible faces of fascism, and there are the invisible faces that have a lot of money. It has multiple aspects. We can’t rejoice in that. But we can rejoice that we have found each other, that we have made coalitions, that we have been able to hold hands and support each other in the face of pain.

Suppose now in the afternoon I go to a protest at the Israeli Embassy against the damage they are doing in Palestine. Tomorrow I have to be at the national library because I have to support the families of the children who are imprisoned. This continues, we are not going to stop taking to the streets. We are going to do what is asked for, and we are going to support the comrades who are going to be drafting the Constitution.

-There are significant omissions in the Convention: the Afro-descendants are not there, the migrants are not there, even when you were talking about how Venezuelans are treated, the high school students are not there, the prisoners are not there, I would say that many fighters from the Primera Linea (The Frontline) are not there, those who were fighting for a whole year and receiving blows.

-There are no high school students, but the age level is young among those in the Constitutional Convention. I should tell you that at least two people are from the Primera Linea; I would say three. One is Aunt Pikachu, an auxiliary, who dresses up in that yellow Pikachu costume. She is crystal clear, and she is from the Primera Linea.

The other one is a gentleman we know as Pelao Vade. He has cancer, he was not treated because he had no money, and yet he was in the Primera Linea. And the third Primera Linea member is María Rivera. She is a lawyer. She was always with the kids in the street, Primera Línea Legal. There was a legal front line. There were also more than 80 medical groups and nurses attending in the places of the revolt. There were more than 800 lawyers working at the police stations and healthcare centers. This was the silent Primera Linea that was there with our thoughts and feelings in the struggle.

We are on the front line, in the street, and speaking up. I think we have to be there, we have to stay strong, not to believe too much in these kind of schematic resolutions about who is there and who is not there, in order to move forward. There is the people, it is a decent, hardy people, who prefers to migrate from the countryside to the city, in which mothers work as domestic servants all their lives so that they can educate their children. That is what I gather—that this people of good will, who have been swindled on many occasions, want a good destiny.



Featured image:  Nuriluz Hermosilla Osorio

(Resumen Latinoamericano-English) by Carlos Aznárez and María Torrellas

Translated by Orinoco Tribune and Resumen LatinoAmericano-English




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