This is the first issue of LAB’s new series of guest-written quarterly dispatches, available exclusively to our patrons (paid subscribers). Each issue of Voz will bring you a long-read article conveying the experience and analysis of our partners out in Latin America – activists, journalists, artists and academics. We hope that their in-depth testimony and commentary will help broaden our understanding of the region, and through it, the world.
Our first guest writer, Natalia Aravena, is a Chilean psychiatric nurse whose right eye was destroyed by a tear gas grenade thrown by Carabineros in the country’s recent estallido social, and has become a prominent campaigner on behalf of all who were injured in the demonstrations.
Natalia describes how, while she was still at school, she and her fellow-students determined to break out of their ‘bubble’ of relative privilege and join the protests; how these became an avalanche of demands for fundamental change – an end to the neo-liberal economic model which has brought savage inequality to her country; and how this led to a landslide plebiscite approving the demand for an entirely new constitution for Chile to replace the one imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship.
In the resulting elections for the Constitutional Convention, in May 2021, Natalia decided to stand as a candidate in Peñalolen, the poor area of Santiago where she grew up. She won in her district but, as she explains, an ironic side effect of the gender parity rule meant that she was not in the end elected.
She recalls in painful detail the day she was injured and her determination to continue the fight: ‘We’ve witnessed how the same themes are repeated – the powerful seek to appropriate for themselves the resources that belong to all of us on this earth. I hope this can be the start of Latin America’s liberation.’
This issue was translated by Mike Gatehouse. If you’d like to read the original article in Spanish, click here.
On 18 October 2019, I was working my 8am – 8pm shift as a nurse in a psychiatric clinic. All week there had been demonstrations at the metro stations protesting the fare rises, and this was the final day. It was lunchtime and on TV we could see the demonstrations were still going on and people were filling the streets of Santiago. Similar things were also starting to appear in other cities. I remember feeling really happy, thinking ‘At last we’re rising up, we’re not putting up with any more abuse’. On the other hand, we were a little afraid, because recordings had begun to spread on WhatsApp and social media, saying that the military were going to take over the streets, that they had orders to shoot, that they would impose a curfew and it would be like it was during the military coup of 1973. Nevertheless, the main feeling was one of hope, that at last ‘Chile has woken up’.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people about it and we all agree on feeling a sense of relief that day. There was a collective longing to do something about inequality, but also this idea that we Chileans are passive, prone to keep shtum in the face of injustice. However, the secondary school students jumping the metro turnstiles and rebelling gave us the strength we needed to fight against oppression.