In October, I found myself in Santiago, Chile, having spent the previous three months in deepest darkest Peru. I was excited to be back in a bustling city, though in hindsight, this excitement was somewhat naïve and misinformed.
Unbeknownst to me, I had arrived just before the 18th of October, which in 2019, signalled the escalation of protests in Chile, and is considered the start of the new social movement. To mark the anniversary, Santiago residents once again took to the streets. Also unbeknownst to me, my hostel was right in the thick of it. By lunch time military tanks were rolling down the blockaded street spraying tear gas indiscriminately at the youthful masses.
So, whilst being tear gassed at dinner was not high on my year abroad bucket list, when the waiter laughed at my shock and said, ‘Welcome to Chile’, I did think it was important to learn a bit more about the movement.
But what does all of this have to do with music? I hear you ask. Well, music has long since been seen as a way to unite and give voice to protesters. No song quite represents the movement more than ‘El Derecho de Vivir en Paz’, by Victor Jara.
Written in 1971, the song started out as an ode to communist Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. When in 1973 Gen Augosto Pinochet came to power, Jara, an outspoken political activist, was imprisoned and later assassinated. He, and his song, became a symbol of resistance against the powers of violence and repression.
In 2019, at the height of protests across Chile, El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, translated as The Right to Live in Peace, could be heard throughout the crowds of protesters across Chile. The immediate trigger of the movement was the increased price in metro tickets in Santiago.
But of course, the trigger was not the root cause, and the anger spoke to a much wider discontent and disillusionment with the country’s so called ‘neoliberal experiment’. Right-wing President Piñera at the time responded to the protests with a state of emergency, which many saw as reminiscent of the Pinochet era. So far 36 people have been killed in protests, with 28,000 detained and 11,564 injured.
In September, Chile voted emphatically to reject the new constitution under the new left-wing government of Gabriel Boric, leaving many puzzled seeing this as a contradiction. The new constitution sought to undo the current constitution which has not changed since the Pinochet dictatorship. The 1980 convention under Pinochet is widely considered to be unrepresentative of the country, as it does not acknowledge or recognise indigenous peoples, despite the Mapuche making up 10% of the country’s population.
And so, this year, on the 18th of October, Chile was once again brimming with tension. But along with the tension is a new air of division, as it is clear the united front of 2019 is no longer cohesive following the rejection of the new constitution. Yet, behind the violence and conflict, El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, ‘la cancion universal’ (the universal song), still trickles through the October 18th crowds. It serves as a reminder of how far Chile has come since the dictatorship and how far it still has to go.
By Beatrice Twentyman, Music Editor at The Definite Article