Dispatches from the People's Summit in Santiago, Chile

This is a series of annual special reports for CMD from guest contributor Alex Carlin about his observations at the United Nations climate conference -- and this year from the "People's Summit" in Santiago, Chile as well. -- CMD Editors

View Alex Carlin's Dispatches from COP25 in Madrid here.

The Solution is to Unite Latin America

December 9, 2019 -The main reason I decided to come to Santiago and not go directly to Madrid, as most journalists did in response to the UN COP 25 Conference changing its venue from Santiago to Madrid, was that I wanted to interview indigenous South American activists. I got lucky, as an amazing Paraguayan indigenous activist named Zunilda Flores agreed to tell me her views.

I asked her to tell me what the most important thing for Americans to understand is about Paraguay today. Without hesitation, she said, "The rights of women."

Zunilda: Women are in a position of vulnerability, and are being treated with quite a lot of violence.

Alex: Yesterday I heard the same thing from Johanna Molina from World March of Women about women in Chile, including the police breaking into people's homes, committing violence on women, raping them. Is this the same in Paraguay?

Zunilda: Yes. This is something that has been happening for a long while. Indigenous people are very vulnerable because the police arrive and they seem to have this authority to go into anybody's house, and the people have no way to protect themselves. And it's not just indigenous women who are victims of this.

Alex: Johanna drew a clear line from the neoliberal policies here, where they actually have meetings at the government level where officials decide that to further these polices they employ this kind of terror against women because women are the core of the resistance to their policies. Are you saying this as well?

Zunilda: I completely agree with Johanna. Neoliberalism utilizes the repression of women as a tactic to stop resistance. And we do feel the fear from this dire situation.

Alex: When you look around the world, can you tell me an example of an alternative to neoliberalism, as a model, as a way to stop this violence to women?

Zunilda: Yes, I look to today's movement in Chile as a great example to follow. People are staging a rebellion against the dominant system. Against Neoliberalism.

Alex: Can you mention a concrete provision in a new constitution that would help stop this violence?

Zunilda: Yes. We need a provision that would make concrete the equality of women. To accept women as they are. To create a method that would equalize men and women. It would help because now there is a mentality that women are less than men.

Alex: North Americans have no idea what is going on in Paraguay. Virtually zero. Recently they are hearing something about Chile, that there are people in the streets, they read about a "revolution." But can you give North Americans some information about what's happening in Paraguay right now, specifically the dynamic between the original indigenous people and the colonial people who came in?

Zunilda: This is very profound. The treatment that the government is giving to the indigenous people is "complete abandonment." Despite this, these indigenous people still protect their environment, and this is crucial for the balance of nature. However, there are organizations that support us. And through them we can have some relationship with the rest of Paraguayan society. And also, through this we have gotten a better understanding of the importance of our people because we can see ourselves as a crucial basis for the balance of natural life.

Alex: What exactly is this support you are getting?

Zunilda: Through our collaboration we can get the word out about the destruction that is happening to our territories. For example, the way our lands were turned into lands for growing animals. The important thing is that our territories should not be touched at all by these industries. And the other thing today is with soy. They are coming in with this, which is destroying our lands, and these organizations are helping us get the word out so we can stop it.

Alex: Back to seeing the movements in Chile as a model for Paraguay, to what extent are people out in the streets in Paraguay?

Zunilda: Mainly it is the non-indigenous countryside farming people who have been participating in the demonstrations. These are white people living in the countryside.

Alex: Are they marching the streets demanding similar things to what the Chileans are demanding? A new constitution?

Zunilda: Agricultural reforms in a new constitution. They ask for agroecology, which means for them not to use any chemicals in the production of food, which they currently are often forced to buy from foreign firms and use. This is happening with white people, but there is communication and support from indigenous communities, with networking. One reason is that the same things are badly affecting the indigenous people.

Alex: How much do people in Paraguay talk about the Climate Crisis?

Zunilda: They do talk about it, and they always focus on the reason - why this is happening. What is the cause of the climate crisis? The main cause that we have identified is deforestation created by multinational companies who don't care if they exploit the land. There are many other factors, but this is the main one.

Alex: What is your main solution?

Zunilda: The solution is to unite South America, unite Latin America.

Alex: This is great.

Zunilda: The new constitution everywhere is not going to happen. Our one possibility is to keep on fighting until we reach those positions of power and then we can have a change. Paraguay has become a land for what we call "new crops," such as soy, and land for animals -- these are bad things. When indigenous people, or white countryside people, try to make new land enterprises they are denied. When foreign people request land for soy, it is given to them. So now the struggle is to stop that.

Alex: Please tell me about your organization.

Zunilda: National Organization of Indigenous Women.

A Clear Line from Neoliberalism to Brutality

December 6, 2019 -- The United Nations Climate Conference runs two weeks near the end of every year. This year it was supposed to be in Brazil, but their climate-denying president canceled it, and it was moved to Chile. But then, as a powerful revolution swept his country, Chile's president pulled the rug out a second time. Finally, Spain offered Madrid as a venue, and most of the climate activists and journalists re-booked themselves from Santiago to Madrid.

Most, but not all.

My contacts in Santiago were telling me about a "People's Summit" of deeply involved activists who were digging in their heels in Santiago for that first week, December 2 to 7. So, I decided to come to Santiago to cover the Summit and The Revolution, and then catch the second week in Madrid.

Arriving Monday, I walked from my hotel in central Santiago to the University of Chile where the People's Summit was located. This city's walls are filled with colorful expansive graffiti, a lot of it exhorting the revolution forward, including fervent memorials to the protesters killed by the police.

That first day I talked to many activists, and what stood out as the number one demand of the revolution was a new Chilean constitution. The current one hasn't changed since the Pinochet dictatorship, so they want to convene an assembly of common citizens to write a new one. They have enough "people power" to have a chance -- recently over one million people were in the streets. The current government, in response, actually offered to write a new constitution, but it was rejected as a sham, since it would be written by a select few corrupt officials.

The stakes were made chillingly concrete to me when I interviewed Johanna Molina, the Chilean national coordinator of the "World March of Women."

Earlier, I watched as her group put on a passionate performance at the Summit, eight young Chilean women singing defiantly, holding a banner that said "They are not protecting us, they are raping us." Joanna told me, "Police have been systematically coming into people's homes and abusing women and girls, making them strip off their clothes, forcing them into humiliating positions, and raping them."

Molina drew for me a clear line from neoliberalism to this brutality that women are suffering today in Chile, and the crucial role that a new constitution would play in stopping that violence. She put it like this:

In our villages, women are responsible for the nurturing of the family by, for example, gathering water. Big companies, often foreign, in the course of their industrial acts, make this water gathering impossible, because they either poison the water or the water is diverted to their uses. Neoliberalism effectively means that these companies are allowed to do these things, they can do anything they want with our water.

I asked her for an example of a specific change to alleviate this problem.

She said, "Water must constitutionally belong to the people, it must belong to Chile, it must not be privatized as it is in Neoliberalism. And this must be codified in the new constitution."

I said, "I see how that could help to protect these villages from destruction at the hands of these corporations. But regarding the violence to women, how is this related to neoliberalism?"

Molina said,

Women are central to holding families and society together, but neoliberalism puts women totally outside its system, women have zero value in it. And then the police carry out violence to counter the people's resistance to neoliberalism, resistance to the industries, such as mining companies. Structural violence against women is the key tool for neoliberalism to stay here forever. Cops breaking into houses -- just last week raping. They are also attacking demonstrators, recently blinding people with BB guns. But the violence is specific against women, attacking their dignity.

I asked, "Are you saying that there are meetings at the Chilean government level where officials discuss how to further the interests of the big corporations doing business in Chile, how to counter the resistance of the people who suffer from these business activities, and these officials come up with these plans for the police to break into people's homes and commit this violence against women?"

She said, "Exactly."

Related to the Climate Crisis, Johanna made the point that, to focus properly on issues like climate, sustainability must be at the core, but under neoliberalism sustainability is nowhere to be found.

We need a feminist economy where the main core is the sustainability of life, with agroecology and food sovereignty. In Chile, Neoliberalism is even more rooted since Pinochet. Under the dictatorship it was clearer, now the decisions are more hidden but the violence is the same. Even under our liberal governments, which are racist, patrician, and colonialist, the system strips away from the people their water, their herbs for health care. The system is violent and does not allow us to prioritize sustainability because the core is the market -- everything can be exploited, sold or traded including nature and our bodies. Neoliberalism prioritizes violence. Specifically, as an example, the new TPP trade agreement must be stopped because it will strip us of even more rights and privileges.

I said, "I can see how a new constitution could provide that water and other things basic to people's lives that must always remain the property of the citizenry, and I can see how this can fend off the encroachment of big businesses, but what about constitutional protection from police conducting violent home invasions per se?"

Johanna smiled and said, "That constitutional protection would be great," and she went on to describe how people were, as we speak, gathering in their communities and developing ideas for various specific sections of the new constitution.

I thought to myself, "this is what democracy looks like."

Later on, I sought out the daily 6 p.m. demonstration at the Plaza Italia, where there stands a giant monument of a soldier on horseback that is now utterly overwhelmed by revolutionary graffiti and banners. As I got within a few blocks of the plaza, late, after sunset, I saw a lone gas-masked demonstrator scurrying away from a giant arc of water spraying from a huge police vehicle that was trying to shower him with a water cannon designed to douse a big crowd. Arriving at the plaza, my nose and throat burned a bit from the tear gas that was still wafting around. A smattering of people were still beating rhythms on metal tubes and chanting, while contingents of cops clustered around, the daily battle finished, just chilling out, après le deluge.