Chilean Uprising

The Chilean Uprising, also known as El Estallido Social (the Social Outbreak), began in Santiago on October 7, 2019 as a secondary school metro fare invasion campaign. By October 25th, over 1 million people were taking to the streets all across Chile against social inequality and the violent and oppressive response to the protests by the Carabineros de Chile (national police). Carabineros used chemical water cannons, tear gas, torture, sexual assault and targeted and mutilated the eyes of protesters in an attempt to suppress the movement.

I traveled to Chile on January 3, 2020 in order to document their uprising, and I witnesses the most oppressive tactics that I had seen at any protest I’ve documented. Every evening when people got off work and made their way to Plaza Baquedano (renaimed Plaza de la Dignidad or Dignity Square), they were faced with Carabineros attempting to disperse the crowds with armored vehicles, chemical water cannons and tear gas. Brave front liners, many of them teens and young adults, worked to protect the gathering of people with nothing but rocks chipped from the sidewalks and their bare hands. I heard stories of coffee houses being tear gassed, eyes being lost or mutilated, medics being shot with rubber bullets when attempting to help the injured, and one of my interviews was interrupted by a tear gas canister being projected in our direction. Due to the state repression, many people did not want to be photographed without their face covered.

As with many of the movements, art was used as a way to cope and express beauty under oppressive conditions. I documented Street art being used throughout the cities of Santiago and Valparaiso for communication of grievances, for conveying hopes and possibilities and for expressions of solidarity with and from other movements and countries. Two recurring symbols were eyes being covered in honor of the many victims of state oppression and an image of a dog that represented resistance. At earlier educational protests a dog had decided to join the protesters every day in resistance to police oppression.

Below is a selection of voices from the Chilean Uprising. Full and additional interviews and audio compilations will be published over time.

“We are volunteer medics. Some of us are studying for being doctors or nurses. Some of us had a course with the Red Cross. I work as a flight attendant, so I have to know first aid. We have been learning how to take out the bullets they shoot at the people. We have to know here how to take them out. Two months ago, we were nine doctors giving first aid here, and we had like sixty people hurt. Each one of us were taking care of six or eight people at the same time. That was very hard in your mind because you have to swallow that tension. Sometimes, I was almost crying, but I had to be strong. The cops don’t care about people, but we have to care about even cops when they throw a rock at a cop, and they fall down. We have to run to protect them. But they don’t see that. They think we are the enemy of them, and they attack us.  I’ve been hurt two times, once with a grenade. I was carrying a journalist from Spain. So I took him on my shoulder to bring him to our safe point, but the cop saw me carrying this guy, and he shoot me in the left leg.  It was like a shotgun with a grenade. He was like paw, and he shoot me. When he saw me, he was laughing…When they see us helping someone, they throw a tear gas grenade next to us, and when they can’t breathe, we have to give our masks to the people because they have nothing. Most of the people don’t have money to buy one. We try to help them, and we try holding the breath to help them because it’s sometimes very hard to help them, and they can’t breathe. We help people hurt in the head with the grenade. Sometimes you are gonna see the brain because it’s open. The brother of a doctor five days ago in the night was coming out of a bar. He was celebrating a birthday. The cops said, ‘hey.’ He said, ‘what,’ and he shoot a grenade three meters away from him. He was walking ten minutes to the hospital because he was with an eye outside…They are without control. They want to create a chaos because they want people to be afraid, but we are not. We are here.”

We are trying to show people with art what we are thinking about the actual process in Santiago, Chile. We are artists. Our form to critique the problems is doing something visual. It’s a kind of communication…This is something explosive because we are living a lot of years with a capitalist government. People can’t support themselves, so I think it’s necessary…I like being a part of this, and I think the art is a very good form to change the minds…I don’t know if the reality will be changes. I’m a little negative about this, but I think it’s a good leap in this moment. It’s not important if things don’t change in the present because it’s part of the process. Maybe we need to wait twenty years for things to change. The important thing about this problem now is a mental change.

“We are here to prove that Chile has not gone back to sleep. It’s to prove that we are still here. It’s to prove that people are still mobilized and that this struggle will not cease until the people and the masses have won…We are struggling for dignity. I’m not going to waste your time and mention one reason after another reason. It’s basically in general, we need dignity. We want a country for all without class differences, without a class divide, without privileged people and unprivileged people. Basically, we want a country which has the same opportunity for everyone. We want greater opportunities, like those who have historically been above us in the class divide, the opportunity for education. We don’t want to be looked down upon. I don’t want to be like the highest class of society, but what I don’t want is for them to look down at me…A lot of people are leaving their country of origin thinking they are going to find more opportunities in another country, and when they arrive there, they see the same exact differences and injustices, and that’s why they end up taking the streets. Countries are waking up, and not only are they waking up, they are coming together to struggle against everything we oppose…We can topple all borders and really, truly come together…Toppling over borders and coming together in one same place would be amazing.”  

“Capitalism is in a crisis of tremendous proportions. I’m a believer in a socialist state, but I think everything we’ve seen in terms of the socialist state, especially in the 20th century up until now, has flaws. I think humanity has not yet been able to witness a properly and fully democratically and just system. I think everything we’ve seen up until now does have its positives. I think society can learn a lot from the rise and the fall of the U.S.S.R. I think it can learn a lot from everything that’s happened in Cuba. I think it can learn a lot from what’s happening in Venezuela. I think it can learn a lot from all these experiences. It can erase the bad and take the good and create something new…but I think it’s our job to first and foremostly come together. The one big thing that anti-capitalists or progressives…have in my opinion, is that we have problems when it comes to exercising unity in action. Whereas the elites, the 1%, they have many differences amongst them, but they do have that capacity of locking horns and just going forward. Whereas us, we don’t trust each other. We always find a difference between us, even if it’s minute. I think its important to understand that we’re obviously going to all have differences. I think having differences is fantastic because diversity is fabulous, but it needs to come to a point where we need to come together on three or four points, lock horns and just go forward.”

“I’m here to fight. We need to fight with the people together for respect. We need justice for all. We want change, a happy life. I want people happy. This is my hope, a good life.”

My son is a student. He is going to become a lawyer, god willing, in five or six years…Education is too much money for what they say is a good education, but it’s not. It’s super difficult for families. I am here as a father. I think people have had enough with the governments we have had over the last twenty years. They have done nothing for the people but to increase the cost of life here in Chile. I would like to see a Chile with equal opportunities for the people, especially for people who have not enough money to educate their children.