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Política Internacional / 31/05/2020

The virus that silenced Chile

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The virus that silenced Chile

Ground zero for social demonstrations in Santiago has been empty since mid-March. The silence is impressive, interrupted only by a few buses, cars and motorcyclists in the quarantine days by the covid-19 in some neighborhoods of the city. Plaza Italia or Plaza de la Dignidad - as it was renamed by some in honor of citizens' demands - has been the place everything happened since October 18, when the explosion in Chile began.“It is a symbol. The square became a memorial of repression. On the walls of the neighborhood, the new Chile and what it demands are reported.
There has been no day since October 18 when the demonstrations stopped. Even the pandemic, ”says Trinidad Lopetegui (Santiago, 1989), who, the beginning of the demonstrations, observed the evolution of this living square day and night. Visual artist, she runs the contemporary art gallery CIMA, a space that has become the eyes of revolts. Installed on the top floor of a building the 1950s, it broadcast what was happening live the roof. "Citizens complain about an unsustainable neoliberal system that does not prioritize human beings," says the Chilean cultural manager. “It is a transversal movement that transcends left and right. We take it as a duty: to tell everything without intervention ”, he recalls. First they used a phone, then the security cameras in the gallery itself, and finally, a special device for streaming. Televisions offered them money to use the space and record, but declined. To leave the offices for the 100 square meter terrace - the camera is installed - they had to protect themselves so as not to inhale the tear gas that went up to the 11th floor.
Its YouTube channel reached over 18 million views, 89,000 subscribers and 11,750 viewers simultaneously. They posted 382 videos. They are followed by users all over the planet, but mainly Argentina, the United States, Spain, Peru and Mexico. “On one occasion, a neighbor in the neighborhood lost her mother in the middle of a demonstration and found her thanks to the transmission. We have become, without planning, a platform of public utility ”, he says.

But what used to be loud and moving - screams, songs, music, drums - with the pandemic everything became quiet: “Now there is a desolate, tremendous, shocking silence”, says Trinidad Lopetegui. It was a kind of brake that put the country in a bipolar situation. In October, Chile was said to have awakened. Chile's economy suffered. But covid-19 stopped the revolt abruptly and the country seems to be living in a kind of limbo. Some protesters thought in early March that the pandemic was an invention by the powerful to prevent change. Surprisingly, however, the demonstrators at Plaza de la Dignidad followed orders to stay home relatively quickly. "Most were aware and immediately went into confinement", thinks the visual artist.

“Covid-19 highlighted the importance of social demands such as public health”

Chile is the Latin American country that most tested covid-19: in mid-April it reached the mark of about 118,000 exams, with a capacity for about 8,000 diaries in approximately fifty public and private laboratories. The Government based its strategy on a high number of tests and on “ive and dynamic” quarantines in only a few municipalities, established according to the number of infected. Unlike other countries in the region, total confinement was not adopted, despite pressure local authorities. Since the first case of the disease was reported on March 3, protests have stopped overnight, partly because curfews and a state of emergency are in place. The biggest fear in Chile remains the number of respirators, which the Administration has centralized the public and private system. A few days ago, the Ministry of Health reported that there were 538 respirators available across the country, distributed by the central government according to regional requests.

The first case of coronavirus was known on March 3 and the Government of Sebastián Piñera decreed a state of emergency - with military personnel on the streets, as in the explosion of protests - curfew, suspension of classes and closing of trade. It remains firm in its decision not to establish a total quarantine at the national level, but only in some areas, which change with the contagion. Except for some pots organized in some neighborhood, these weeks the protests stopped almost completely, although in the last days of April some groups have challenged the authorities with still small-scale concentrations that have been suppressed. A few weeks ago the president himself took advantage of the stillness of the square and, in a severely criticized gesture, got out of his car to photograph himself at the epicenter of the protest scene: “I did not commit any crime (...), nobody owns this place” , explained Piñera later.
The big question in Chile is what will happen to social mobilization once the health emergency is overcome. Trinidad Lopetegui, who has the pulse of the streets in the retina, believes that it will reappear with strength: “The covid-19 highlighted the importance of social demands such as public health and great inequalities, causing greater indignation and anger in the people”, says .

the top of the building, despite the silence, it is possible to observe the tracks of a crowd that is now confined. On the asphalt we still read: historical. It was the word that women wrote in Plaza Italia on March 8, when about two million Chileans took to the streets to march, in a demonstration of the strength of the social movement that feminism led. It was the last major concentration before the blackout, which the CIMA gallery continues to broadcast without rest.

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