“You Have to Listen to the Streets”: Rebel Diaz on Hip Hop and the Chilean Constitution (Interview)

By Mike Bond – Nov 5,  2020

In 2006, Chilean American brothers Rodrigo (RodStarz) and Gonzalo (G1) founded Venegas Rebel Diaz, a hip-hop duo from Chicago and the South Bronx. With a distinctly Chilean flair that contains elements from local and indigenous folk music, Rebel Diaz’s hip hop combines class struggle with international solidarity. Her texts lambaste capitalism and racism in the United States and imperialism and fascism in Latin America.

The duo’s songs have declared immigration rights for Spanish-speaking migrants during the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids, as well as their support for the Chicago teachers’ strike and Black Lives Matter. Through their music, the brothers have called for the liberation of Puerto Ricano, denounced New York’s stop-and-frisk policies, and supported anti-fascist and anti-racist movements.

Her art and politics are based on the radical humanism of Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara, the left folk music movement Nueva Canción Chilena (new Chilean song) and the status of her family as political refugees who fled the regime of Augusto Pinochet or from the regime of Augusto Pinochet were exiled in the 1970s.

I spoke to Rebel Diaz and discussed Chile’s mass uprisings to form a new constitution, the broader impact of the movement in Latin America, and how the years of rebellion are shaping the arts in the region.

– Jack Delaney

Jack Delaney: The Chileans voted overwhelmingly – 78 percent of the voters! – a new constitution called for. For decades after the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the people have been demanding a constitution that puts power outside the hands of the elite. What does this victory mean for the working class and the poor Chileans?

Rodrigo Venegas: It shows that the fight was heard on the streets across the country. Their demands for a dignified life lead to a vote that opens the doors to a new constitution. This is a start to opening up a space where people can have access to health care, education, pensions, and indigenous rights. It is a victory for the working class.

Gonzalo Venegas: The Pinochet Constitution stipulated that poor workers were available for the benefit of property and capital. Discarding it is a first step towards a constitution that puts people, not corporate interests and the neoliberal model at its center.

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JD: We saw reports of state violence following the October 2019 uprising. Hundreds of demonstrators were wounded, maimed and blinded while others were subjected to torture, sexual assault and rape. Thirty-six Chileans were murdered by state forces. Her artistic inspirations come from Víctor Jara, who was similarly tortured and murdered under the Pinochet regime for his politically charged music. How did artists like Jara and the Nueva Canción movement inspire the fight against state repression for a new constitution?

Camper: When we were out there the soundtrack was on the streets Víctor Jara. On every corner we heard his song “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” or “The Right to Live in Peace”. At the same time we have artists who differ from the Nueva Canción. Artists like Portavoz and Ana Tijoux were also the soundtracks to these fights. Groups like Inti-Illimani, who are members of Nueva Canción, carried out at the height of the uprisings In front of the people. They played the hymn “El Pueblo Unido” [The People United]. The culture of the Nueva Canción was brought back to the fore of the Chilean fighting by the uprisings.

There was a Video that went viral of a musician hiding behind a sign on the front. On a saxophone he played Victor Jara’s “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz”. It was inevitable to hear the music of the Nueva Canción in the streets.

JD: What role do music and art currently play in the fight against neoliberalism and the movement to form a new constitution? Conversely, how does the movement shape art and music?

GV: Our great inspiration alongside the Nueva Canción and its legacy is the hip hop movement that arose in Chile in the early 2000s. It was an explicitly organized political hip-hop movement. You can see this movement in 2006 Pinguinos Rebellion by boys and school children who protested the bus fare. Some of these children became the leaders of the 2019 rebellion. This generation that cared about politicized hip-hop is a testament to the power of culture to educate, agitate and organize.

Camper: Not just the music, but also the art, the comedy, the joke that was brought to protest. People showed up in various costumes that mocked the political establishment and made fun of it. They made it available to the majority of people. Graffiti was also something that was impressive. In Santiago, the walls tell you what’s going on in the street. It’s the people’s newspapers. This creativity among the Chileans was just as important as the front.

GV: We have to mention the November 2019 hit that wasn’t on a record label. “Un Violador en Tu Camino” [“A Rapist in Your Path”]. The Chilean feminist women’s movement popularized the street performances of this song. It exploded in Chile and thousands of women performed it in Mexico, Europe and all of Latin America. It speaks to the role of sexism and misogyny as an integral part of capitalism, the neoliberal model and how women can resist it.

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JD: There is a lot of talk in the US about simply voting for change, which often leads to a continuation of the status quo. While the Chileans voted for change, the struggle was accompanied by a mass movement fighting in self-defense. How did militancy contribute to the victory for a new constitution?

Camper: We wouldn’t have a new constitution if people didn’t resist on the streets. It’s as simple as that. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation now if young people didn’t decide to take to the streets and bravely stand against the militarized state repression. Here in the US, the parallel is that we would not have any talks about defusing the police or the Black Lives Matter unless the people of Minnesota, New York, Oakland and Louisville took to the streets.

The difference is that the people of Chile never left the streets. You’re probably protesting right now. The movement showed its dissatisfaction not only with those who wrote the constitution, but also with those who passively supported it. It was dissatisfaction with the entire political class, left and right. This will carry over to this new process where 78 percent of the people voted for a constituent convention.

JD: What can the left learn from the movement in Chile? What made this victory successful?

Camper: You have to listen to the street. Leading youth also reject the left and the right. Historically, we’ve seen Ferguson and Baltimore co-opt to vote for Hillary and now with Biden. We have seen people who legitimately opposed police killing in this country became elections. Biden’s first answer to the murder [Walter Wallace Jr.] was “Let’s keep the violence off the streets.” We’re getting the same messages from the people who should be channeling street political energy into voting for Democrats. What people can learn from fighting in Chile are the tactics the front line and the second lineand how to resist militarized occupation. What the people of Chile have shown is a political education class for the rest of the world.

GV: What we can learn from the movement in Chile that has forced the hands of business class is that the degree of unity is not just left versus right, but people versus capital. We need to make these connections that it’s not just Democrat versus Republican or Black versus White, but in a way that represents Chile, a struggle between people and capital.

JD: What impact has the movement had on the government of Sebastián Piñera?

Camper: This uprising has managed to make Piñera so ridiculous that in an election today the votes would not be so different [from the Constitutional referendum] to get him out of office. If things had got worse, capital would have been willing to sacrifice Piñera. What saved him was the November 15th Agreement. Without allowing a vote for a new constitution, Piñera would have been forced by the people to resign. This concession bought Piñera time. Without the pandemic, these protests would have continued in full. The pandemic has highlighted the shortcomings of the Piñera government in selecting profits over people. The protests had piñera on the ropes.

JD: Her family fled as political refugees during the dictatorship and resisted the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria [La MIR, or the Revolutionary Left Movement]. What does it mean specifically to your family and to those who have previously been associated with organizations like La MIR that Chileans rewrote the Pinochet-era constitution?

Camper: It was very inspiring for my parents and their generation to see the riots. For them, for everything the Pinochet dictatorship did to their lives, the election of his constitution was a symbolic death for the Pinochet era. The fact that it is 2020 and we still have a Pinochet constitution shows very clearly what impact the dictatorship had and still has on Chilean society. To see young people, children of their grandchildren’s generation, take to the streets and breathe a little more life into my parents.

GV: A characteristic of La MIR is that they have been critical supporters of [Salvador] Allende, you were not part of the Unidad People’s Coalition. For the elder MiristasIt is inspiring to see that it is organized autonomously and rejects the entire political class. The young people were not betrayed.


Featured image: Rebel Diaz enters the end of poverty now! Rally before the march downtown after the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Alex Markow / Getty Images)

(The Nation)

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