Latin America

Some conversations here

A few conversations today:

The young woman working at the front desk at the hotel where I’m staying: When she showed me out, I commented on the sign on the front door which said that they support the protests. She said that in part it was there to discourage the protesters from breaking their windows. However, I haven’t seen one single window broken, so I asked her if it was purely for that reason. She said that, no, they support the protests also, but that they were against the violence. She also commented on the new constitution that they are supposed to be writing, and said she hoped that would resolve the problems.

Later, I got to talking with an older woman (turned out she was 63 – 10 years younger than me) who had a little stand selling crafts. She asked me if I was there for the protests — she knew! She was in total support. Didn’t even mention anything about being against the violence. I asked her about the issue of the constitution. What were the main objections? The thing she mentioned was privatization. Evidently in the present one, privatization is mandated. In particular, she mentioned the issue of privatization of water. “Imagine that!” She said. “Even the water is privatized.” I mentioned the coup, and she too remembered it, of course. Clearly, it is a big issue in her mind.

Later, I got to talking with a small group of nursings students. We were comparing the situation in Oakland to Santiago. Turns out that the minimum wage compared to average rent is more or less the same in both cities! They asked me a lot about the health care system. Their main question was not whether the insurance was private, but whether the system itself is private or public. We talked some about the situation for nurses in the two countries. I asked them about this new constitutional convention. They expressed no confidence in it. What they want is an assembly “desde abajo” – from below. But the question is how it could be organized, because they agreed that there is a power vacuum – that there is no organized leadership. They agreed that there was a danger that even a popular assembly could be manipulated by the official parties . 

A couple of more conversations:

I got to talking with a group of young nursing students. They asked me a lot about the health care system in the US. They were somewhat interested in the issue of a public health insurance plan, but what really surprised them, and what they seemed really opposed to, was the fact that healthcare itself is private. We also talked about the constitutional convention that is being called for later next year. This group of young people had no confidence in this convention. They agreed that what was needed was a popular assembly “dessert abalone” – from below. The official convention will be controlled by the main parties in which this group of young people had zero confidence. But they also agreed that a vacuum exists and that even a popular assembly could be manipulated.

I got to talking with a slightly older worker – maybe in his late 30s. He is a professional but also a union member. While we were talking, several people passed by with signs referring to this upcoming constitutional convention and a comment about not accepting “las letras chicas” – the little letters. This guy explained to me that this was a reference to what we say about reading the fine print. Apparently, the call for this constitutional convention includes some rules that will make it impossible to change anything significant. More importantly, this guy was telling me about the mood in his neighborhood. He said that previously, individualism was very strong and also that people simply didn’t talk with each other. That has all changed now, he said.

Finally, I got to talking with a comrade in his 60s who had joined the Trotskyist movement in the ‘80s. In those days, everybody had a false name and they had to work secretly. He’s now still a Trotskyist, but openly. He, too, mentioned the issue of individualism and how that has changed now.



This sign says “We have been killed, gassed, shot at, tortured, but we keep on going.”

This sign referees to the repression of the Mapuche Indians in Chile. It says, “We all have Mapuche blood. The poor have it in their veins and the rich have it on their hands.”

Okay, this sign takes a little explaining. There had been a black dog (In other signs, they refer to the “Perro negro”) that used to hang around at the university and went with the students in the protests. He came to be called “matapaco”. “Paco” is a slang reference to the police, and mata… well, let’s just say the name is similar to “FTP” in the US. Matapaco is a very popular dog among the students, even though he recently died of natural causes. Okay. So the sign, with a picture of Matapaco, is one that a woman had in selling vegetarian hamburgers. (It seems vegetarianism is quite popular among the students.) On top it advertises that it is selling hamburgers made from lentils (“lentejas”) and it gives the ingredients (lettuce, tomatoes, etc.) Then it shows Matapaco saying “feed your inner Matapaco”

This was a small group of union members who were on the march.

The trash collectors are on strike, and here is one of them. He’s carrying a sign calling for “a fair salary for a dignified life”. The guy standing next to him is a construction laborer and we got to talking about conditions in construction. I can’t repeat what he said he’d like to do with Trump because I’m afraid I’d be arrested.

Categories: Latin America

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