Susana’s Chilean accent peppers her words as she speaks to me, in English, about her hometown of Santiago and the current protests occurring in Chile’s capital.
“The promise in Chile was that we would have ‘the American Dream’, where we could work hard and improve our lives. But it is not real.” The neo-liberalism foundation of Chile’s economic policies enabled the Chilean economy to rise, quickly. It was widely considered the most stable and promising economy in South America, but recent protests draw this picture sharply into question.
“In Chile, we were angry about our system but did not take action. Then, this past year, many things happened at once that angered the public. We realized that this system is not working for us.” Susana believes that the time is up for the current administration and the time of the Chilean people is beginning.
The Chilean people are rejecting the promises of neoliberalism, what some call “extreme capitalism”, and returning to their roots. For example, within the Southern countryside of Chile lives its native people, the Mapuche, whose land covers roughly 15 regions that span from Santiago to Patagonia. These people have been subjugated throughout Chile’s history, and economic progression often came at the expense of Chile’s natives. To make matters worse, Chile’s government routinely passes legislation that etches the Mapuche out of their land. Furthermore, these politicians demonize the indigenous by claiming that the Mapuche are dangerous, savage, and regressive.
Susana sees it differently: it is the Mapuche are fighting dearly to preserve their land and culture, their way of life and their wellbeing. “They are aggressive, yes, because they are fighting to protect the land. They are protectors of the land, and the land is not for sale, it is for the people.” Unfortunately, the indigenous continue to lose this battle; but the Chilean people are realizing that they, too, have been losing the battle for a better life. “We are waking up and realizing we all have to fight, like the Mapuche, for our rights.”
“We are not protecting the Mapuche, we are joining them. People care, now, about our past, and we are thinking, ‘Maybe we can try to understand our roots.’ It is basic, but in Santiago, we have not been connected to our roots. We don’t talk much about our indigenous. It has been detached from the culture. We were told to be reasonable and rational, [and we were told that this was progress]. And it didn’t work.