Two Hemispheres, One Call for Action: Chile, The U.S., and Social Protests

Image description: Sticker in Minneapolis of Negro Matapacos, the Chilean “riot dog.” Image source

Continuing our occasional series on “changing our imaginations”–inspired by Kandace Montgomery, a Minneapolis-based organizer for Black Visions Collective who, talking in particular about abolishing the police, said, “They’ve ruined our imagination and told us that policing is the issue [solution]. We need to change our imagination. We have to change what’s possible”–we are excited to publish this post by our colleagues, Vilma Navarro-Daniels and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo about the symbolic and substantial parallels they see between protests in Chile in October 2018 and ongoing racial justice protests in the U.S. this summer. They call for us to recognize and build on the solidarities expressed by protestors as we reimagine a better world across national and linguistic borders. You can find Dr. Navarro-Daniels on Facebook, Twitter, or email her at navarrod@wsu.edu. You can find Dr. Lugo-Lugo on Facebook, IG (@crllugo), or email her at clugo@wsu.edu.

Vilma Navarro-Daniels and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, Washington State University

Souls in pain know no borders.

Isabel Allende, My Invented Country

When it is genuine, when it is born of the need to speak, no one can stop
the human voice. When denied a mouth, it speaks with
the hands or the eyes, or the pores, or anything at all.

Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces

On October 18, 2019 (18-O), Chile began a protest movement that shook Latin America’s Southern cone. The anti-government protests often focused on the police, who are seen as the violent extension of the government. The song composed by the collective “Las Tesis” (The Theses) and titled “Un violador en tu camino” (A Rapist on your Way) made its way around the world, with the line “and the rapist is you,” which the women in Chile performed in front of police precincts while pointing literally at the cops and figuratively and the courts, and the state.

Close to eight months later, the United States has also been experiencing a series of protests, in the summer of 2020, which has also focused on the role of the police as the violent extension of the government, in this case, perpetrating violence against people of color and more specifically, the Black population in the country. In fact, the protests began after a series of murders of Black folks in the hands of the police and White civilians, galvanized by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The movement, growing under the umbrella Black Lives Matter, began to ask, firmly and without pause for one important thing: the defunding of police departments around the nation.

As context-specific as the Chilean protests were, and as context-specific as the protests in U.S. cities also are, it has become apparent that fighting the government and its fascist responses in Chile has prescient points of similarity to the fight against the government and its facist responses in the United States. There is an unquestionable connection between the Chilean social movement, October 18 (18-O), and the U.S. demonstrations in the aftermath of the assassination of George Floyd. The frames and narratives of both movements, their symbols, how they have evolved, the way mainstream media has criminalized civil disobedience, and the response of their detractors all point to a moment in history shared by the citizens of both countries.

Amazingly, there are two Chilean symbols captured by photographers in the U.S. protests: the Mapuche flag and the Negro Matapacos (Black Cop-Killer), a black mongrel dog that became famous after having been seen in many street demonstrations for years. He was (and still is) the Chilean riot dog. Although the dog passed away, his spirit seems to be still present, encouraging the people of Chile (and obviously abroad) in their fight for dignity and justice. Stickers depicting Negro Matapacos were seen on some light poles in front of a police station in Minneapolis. And protesters were captured on camera waving the Mapuche flag in the U.S. street demonstrations.

Another important point of intersection is the stories of George Floyd and Gustavo Gatica. Floyd was a Black man killed by cops in Minneapolis by kneeling on his neck for more than 7 minutes. Gatica is a 21-year old Chilean college student who was left blind after police officers in Santiago mutilated both of his eyes by shooting the same type of rubber-bullets used by U.S. cops. Floyd’s “I can’t breathe,” which he kept saying as the cop’s knee put pressure on this neck, is eerily similar to Gatica’s “I can’t see,” after the cops shot at him with rubber bullets.

Race has also played a role in both sets of protests. As mentioned earlier, in the U.S., the protests have been framed through the Black Lives Matter lens. The Chilean protests have also acquired a specific racial component after the murder of the indigenous Mapuche leader, Camilo Catrillanca, who like George Floyd, was killed by the police. This particular murder has been viewed  as a galvanizing element in 18-O.

It is clear that in both Chile and the U.S., mainstream ideologies support the interests of the ruling classes at the expense of the interests of the people. In all this, there is one more connection: Chile was one of the main laboratories developed to implement the neoliberal policies that sustain the U.S. economy.

Returning to the song turned street-performance, “A Rapist On Your Way,” the song makes explicit reference to police abuse of power, in this case, abuse against women. And we are reminded of a White police officer in Oklahoma who raped multiple Black women in a short period of time. He did that because he could. (A study found that police officers in the US were charged with forcible rape 405 times between 2005 and 2013.) In both Chile and the U.S., the police force, which is supposed to serve and protect civilians, becomes the “armed wing” of the government, the economic powers, and the ruling class. It becomes a weapon against the very people that they make an oath to serve and protect.

The similarities and parallels between the still-unfolding events in Chile and the U.S. register continuities and convergences in the history of both countries. The synchronicity of the protests and the similar messages by the protestors tell us that as Isabel Allende proclaims in the opening epigraph, “pain knows no borders,” and as Eduardo Galeano points in the second epigraph, whether in the northern or the southern hemisphere, “no one can stop the human voice.”

May these synchronicities allow room for solidarity and understanding.

P.S. (from Down with Brown): We’d love to have folks do guest blog posts for us around the theme of “changing our imaginations.” So BIPOC folks interested in doing so, hit us up at dosprofx@gmail.com!