Stories from the Frontline, A month of fighting in Chile - Felipe Fontecilla
Updated: Apr 1
On October 16th of 2019, a revolution that had been building up for years finally exploded. Chileans refer to it as the Social Explosion (Estallido Social). The movement began with High-School students protesting against the increase of metro fares in Santiago, but rapidly uncovered the outrage the people have against the government for the years of negligent administration, oligarchic nepotism, and the enrichment of the elites at the expense of the most vulnerable.
When Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency and threw the military onto the streets I could not take my eyes off the news. The first few days were critical. Deaths, wounding, tortures, sexual abuse, and a lot of blood were all over the news. As the conflict extended through time, the violence was naturalized. At first, police detention of teenagers was normalized, then wounding was normalized, then loosing an eye at a protest was normalized, then being ran over by police trucks was normalized, then having burns in the skin off the water of water tanks was normalized, and so on and so forth.
By the time I came to Chile it had already been a month since the conflict started. Everybody I knew had been affected in one way or another. Some of my closest friends had bruises from being shot by pellets or tear gas cans, some others had been on a strike for their last months of the academic semester, people in my family had trouble moving around the city to go to work, and some were just shaken by the whole situation having trouble to sleep, feeling paranoid, and scared for their safety and that of their loved ones. Some were preparing to flee the country in case they started to persecute political activists, some others had bought bulk sim-cards for their friends in case they phones were being wired, and some resisted to take any safety and head straight into the protests frontlines to fight the police repression.
One would think that if the government had any will to resolve the conflict, in a matter of months the violence would have diminished. There would be an opening of communication channels in between the government and the civil society. The demands of the people would have been addressed. But a month into the conflict and the only thing that had changed from when it started was the possibility of a new constitution which turned away the attention of the media to the numbing entertainment of reality TV.
From the day I arrived in the country, it became clear to me that the fight was long from being over: on the day I arrived I walked through Plaza de la Dignidad...zone zero...the epicenter of the conflict. Before I could spot anything, my eyes get watery and it becomes hard to breath. Soon enough I spot a group of about 30 school students (some of them might have been 14-15 years old) fighting against three police trucks. From the trucks a group of a dozen police officers go down a very quickly run to face the students. One of them shoots a tear gas can from a shotgun. The kids run. The police trucks activate their siren and head towards them. Another group of students run towards the trucks throwing rocks at them and screaming at the full power their lungs: murderers, killers, rapists! The truck stops, backs off and awaits. The same routines gets repeated at least three times in the ten minutes I spent there watching.
Fast forward a few weeks. Every Friday I have gone to the protests. Hundreds of thousands of people are gathered in Plaza de la Dignidad. In the small streets that lead to the square police water tanks, and other police trucks are getting stopped by the Frontlines. Fireworks, shots, explosions, and chants filled the airspace. The incredibly organized Frontlines at work. They take shifts, coordinated on the spot. Some are responsible to open gateways to get to the frontline without having to face the police, some others are gathering rocks to throw at the police, somewhere in the back a group of people with lasers are pointing at the trucks trying to blind those inside them. A few streets over a group of people are making food with then commissioners take to the Frontline o feed the fighters. Everyone has a role. For the wounded, first aid volunteers are at all positions of the fights awaiting to go on the rescue. Every other person walks with a bottle-spray of water they offer to those suffering from the burning of the tear gas. The police awaits until its dark and the press go home to start the brutality.
It is 11:30pm of my last Friday in Santiago. The street is dark except for a few street-lamps that have survived the month of protests. The police are hiding in the darkness of the park inside a residential complex. They shoot from behind the trees. Me and two friends are recording an interview, in the backdrop there is the fight, you see the Molotov Cocktail bombs fly over. From over the darkness the police is shooting to kill. We run.
Below there is a collection of pictures I took during a month of fighting.
There is much more to this story, but words can only say so much.
The fight goes on, and the stories will continue to arise. All over the world people are fighting the big fight, cause you have nothing to lose your life is the last thing violent despots can take away from you and is your last resort to fight.
There is much we can learn from this people, buy my hopes is that at least the lives lost so far account for something. If anything they have made us come together and are making us stronger, but I think they can serve as an inspiration for those of us watching from the comfort of our couches and desks. Living comfortably and not having to worry about our loved ones getting killed by the hands of those who are supposed to protect them, is a privileged fed on the expenses of this people. I don't say this to make you feel guilty, but rather to say that the survival of humanity is dependent on our capacity to open our eyes to the reality we live in but we choose not to see, and engage in conversation and collaboration to create changes and overthrow the political oligarchies that run the world. We can do it, we just need to be willing to. Your struggle is not that far from ours, the struggle of indigenous people all around the world is the same struggle as the one I describe here, the struggle of working classes, the struggle of women, the struggle of the LGBT people, the struggle of rural mining communities, they are all interconnected and have common solutions. We can make this world a better place. We might not leave it better than we found it, but we can at least stop its destruction.