Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chile Part 5 - More Failures of Neoliberalism

I have already touched on the problem of rapid economic growth coupled with price inflation and wage stagnation. (With the exception of the 1998 Asian Tigers Crisis, GDP growth has averaged betweeen 5 and 10% annually. (1) ) I also referred to the grotesque level of inequality, one of the worst in the world (2), and the refusal of the government to create proper social welfare and education systems in an attempt to rectify this. But there are more problems than these facing Chile.

An export-dependent economy. What happens when the global economy goes into the toilet? What will happen to Chile in the coming years when the rising oil prices make it uneconomic to export fruit?

The central part of the country where most of the population lives and most of the fruit growing occurs is drying up and may well become desert in the coming decade. Due to global warming, the Andes get less snow, lowering the water table and river flow. Furthermore, clear-cutting and poor water usage are contributing factors, Chileans have told me.(Yet, you read not a word about global warming in the Chilean press.)

Chile has almost no oil and natural gas. This at a time when prices for these resources are sky-rocketing. Power brown-outs are blamed upon Argentina's refusal to renew its natural gas export contract, as it seems that country needs its gas for its own use. And since there is less water, hydro projects don't seem to be the answer. The electricity problem is a fine example of the failure of neo-liberalism. Central and North Chile get sun 365 days a year. The coastline gets wind off the Pacific. You would think solar and wind power would have been introduced. But no, Chile is 30 years behind other countries in this technology. Utlities were corporatized under Pinocho and thus cannot see any further than this years profit margins.

Meanwhile, the authorities have applied the US model of suburban sprawl and vast shopping malls everywhere. (It was never so evident as this trip, and the disease was only beginning in 1996.) At a time of water and power shortages and rising oil prices, the most energy-inefficient way of living in the world is being actively promoted.

Agribusiness is driving campesinos off the land. They crowd into the cities and exacerbate the problems there. The remaining campesinos are being forced into mono-crop sub-contracting for the corporations. This further undermines campesino life and threatens the farmer's markets, the one source of cheaper food for the populace.

The inability of the Peruvian state to deal with its economic problems is forcing many Peruvians to immigrate (legally and illegally) into Chile, a country that is wealthy by comparison with theirs. The Peruvians add to the number of poor in the cities and due to racism are blamed for "stealing jobs." and a rising crime rate.

I am left with the feeling that these problems will tear the country apart in the coming years.

One final point that I didn't know where to fit in. Chile used to be one of the most socially progressive countries in Latin America. Thanks to the Pinochet dictatorship, this is no longer the case. It was a deliberate policy of the dictatorship to stamp out socially progressive ideas and it shows. Chile is in many ways like stepping back 40 years. "White" Chileans will cheerfully tell you that People of Color are inferior and that Indians are stupid, the sort of talk that went out of style among middle class Canadians a good while ago. Even though blonds only make up maybe 15% of the population, most women in advertisements are rubias. There are no women bus, taxi or truck drivers and no women tradespeople or contruction workers. Only 30% of Chilean women are engaged in wage work, the lowest in Latin America and the same as Canada in 1960. This dependence upon one income is a contributing aspect of the poverty in the country and is a direct and long-term expression of the social reaction of the Pinochet regime.

1.) Average GDP growth between 1990 and 2001 was 4.7% Average growth, 2002-2007 was 4.71% (2007 at 5.2%) Sources, CIA Fact Book

2.) The GINI Index. Zero would equal absolute equality and 100 absolute inequality. Chile stands at 58.3, Costa Rica 48.9, Brazil, 56.7, and by way of comparison, Canada at 33.1, France at 32.3 and Norway at 25.7. Sources CIA Fact Book

Monday, March 24, 2008

Church Members Arrested For Supporting First Nations

Church Members Arrested during Easter Mass
for Challenging Archbishop
Sunday, March 23, 2008 2:00 pm PST

Four young Catholics were arrested and dragged out of Easter Mass by police this morning after they challenged statements by Archbishop Raymond Roussin about aboriginal protestors outside Holy Rosary Catholic Church in downtown Vancouver.

Ellen and Tatyana Dobrowolski, Josh Regnier and Vikram Uchida were assaulted by police in their pews after Ellen, a student at Simon Fraser University, stood to dispute comments from the Archbishiop contained in a "pastoral letter" from him being read to the congregation by priest Glen Dion.

"I began shaking with anger when he read that letter. I couldn't just sit there with the Archbishop saying such lies, attacking the native people outside and saying they were making up the stories about children being killed in the residential schools. So I got up and I said it wasn't true, that the Archbishop shouldn't be trying to discredit people who have the courage to stand up and name what happened to them.

"I was beginning to say that our church should admit what it did, that people should make up their own minds and go speak to the protestors, and then I was grabbed by that police sergeant. He yanked me by my arm and dragged me across the person next to me, then hauled me and the others right out of church."

Outside Holy Rosary, residential school survivors and other protestors welcomed the four churchgoers as they were "warned" and then released by police, several dozen of whom blocked the entrances to the church.

"You're brave people and we honour what you did in there" said Skundaal, an aboriginal woman from the Haida Nation who survived Indian residential schools.

"I only hope others in there wake up and see through the lies they're being fed."

The protest action was called by the Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared (FRD), following a similar action on March 16 when hereditary chiefs posted an Eviction Notice on Holy Rosary and other downtown churches of the Anglican and United churches. Once again, the event was heavily covered by the local and national media.

"People are driven to occupying churches when they're ignored" said FRD organizer Kevin Annett, who was personally attacked and slandered in the Vancouver Sun newspaper after the March 16 action.

"But what's so encouraging about today is that members of Archbishop Roussin's own church are getting up and challenging him for the crimes of their church. That's what's going to start shaking things up, which is why the four of them were arrested so quickly. The church knows their time is over. It's like the last days of Ricahrd Nixon around here."

A lawyer for the Vancouver Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, Mary McKinnon, contacted Kevin Annett after the March 16 protest and said the church wished to negotiate, but refused to listen to any of the FRD's demands.

"She started attacking me personally, saying I didn't represent anything and was looking for publicity. I asked her why her church refused to address the evidence or the stories of eyewitnesses, and she said they didn't have to answer to them. I thought that said it all."

Recent forensic evidence from mass graves at residential schools in B.C. has prompted the FRD to plan an escalation of their protests if the Catholic, Anglican and United churches do not surrender the remains of children who died in their Indian Residential Schools. But for survivors like Rick Lavallee of the Cree Nation, who saw his brother Randy murdered by a Catholic priest at the Portage La Prairie residential school, a lot more is needed.

"We've told them to get off our land and we'll be back with a hundred homeless people to take over their church if they don't!" shouted Rick to the cheering crowd.

"This church belongs to us residential school survivors and not the people who killed my brother."

For more information: or 1-888-265-1007

FRD National Committee
23 March, 2008
Squamish Nation territory

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Chile Today - Part 4 The Failure of Neo-liberalism

Seventeen years is a long enough time for an experiment in economic development. South Korea moved from Third World misery to developed status in hardly more than that. How has Chile fared in the 17 years since my first visit? When I returned in 1996 it seemed the place was hopping, lots of new houses – small houses for normal people, not MacMansions – were built by the thousands, unemployment dropping and the squatter colonies were going to be a thing of the past. Of course masses of unemployed and underemployed were still selling pens on the street and long hours, low wages was still the lot of 90% of the employed, but it was supposed to improve.

The optimism of '96 had dissipated somewhat in 1998 due to the collapse of the Asian Tigers the year before. This should have been a wake up cry to the fact that the neo-liberal "export-based" model makes a country highly vulnerable, but I saw nothing about this in the press. Back again in 2001, and the economic motor seemed chugging along again, but still the problems of underemployment and low wages persisted. Added to these problems was the fact that almost no social services existed. No welfare, no health care system, a pension tied to a fluctuating stock market, privatized education and therefore the burden of school fees and university tuition.

What do I find in 2008? Low wages, long hours, poor or non-existent social services, guys selling pens in the streets and tin shack colonies. Middle class people tell me, as they did in 1991, '96, '98 and 2001, that they really wonder how they survive given the low incomes and high cost of everything. Three quarters of Chileans earn less than $440 CDN a month. Yet the prices on most items are about as high as in Canada. In Canada during the early 1960's when most Canadians earned less than $440 a month, prices were in accordance with income – a quart of milk was 20 cents, a kilo of bread 40 cents, a bus ticket 20 cents and so on. Chileans in 2008 pay $1.40 for a litre of milk, $2.30 for a kilo of bread and $1.10 for a bus ticket, and earn 1962-level wages! Professionals and skilled workers make from one quarter to one fifth what their Canadian counterparts make. I should also mention, that the hours are longer and the benefits are also far less, so it is even worse that the wage figures would indicate.

The claim is made that Chile is too poor to afford social services or a more egalitarian wage structure. According to the CIA Source Book Chile's 2007 per capita GDP was $14,400. Adjusted for inflation, Canada's per capital GDP was about the same in the early 1950's. But by then we had a whole raft of social welfare measures and social reforms such as welfare, unemployment insurance, hospital insurance, the eight hour day, two weeks vacation, minimum wage legislation etc. We had a system of public education and wages were rising and would continue to do so until the mid-1970's. Unionized industrial workers were now seen as "middle class" and lived accordingly. All on a per capita GDP of $14,400 which the Chilean rulers find too feeble.

But Chile does have a lot of newly minted multi-millionaires and billionaires...

To be continued

Friday, March 21, 2008

First Nations Eviction Notice to Catholic Church

Heriditary Chief Kiapilano of the Squamish People has given an eviction notice to the Catholic Church in Vancouver. This is in relation to the struggle to restore the bodies of Aboriginal children killed in Church-run Residential Schools. See

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chile Today Part 3 - The Radical Left

I have already written about the Chilean anarchist movement and will say no more about it here, other than to say it is an important part of the opposition to neoliberalism and the corporate state.

The Communist Party. Like other Communist Parties I have observed, the Chilean party seems to have benefitted in the long run, ideologically and in practice, from the collapse of the USSR. Freed from having to give support to the policies of an ever-more conservative Soviet bureaucracy, these parties now adapt to their own national situations. (It must be remembered that during the Unidad Popular days, the CP was a conservative force in that alliance.) These reformed CP's now attempt to become a voice for the trade unions and social movements and do not seem to engage in the sectarian practices of yore. They are now willing to unite with other forces more radical than themselves. Their actual politics are left-social democratic, making them far more radical than the contemporary socialist and social democratic parties, which, as we have seen, have been corrupted by neoliberalism. However, while more militant than before, the CP is still on the "moderate" wing of the radical left.

While visiting Chile the only large circulation newspaper I could find that was worth reading was El Siglo, the CP weekly. There may have been other socialist weeklies but I never found any, and El Siglo was sold at most kiosks.

The party plays a major role in the CUT, the main trade union federation. (There is much criticism of the CUT by anarchists and other radicals. For an example of a more militant labour federation see CGT Mosicam.) Graffitti evidence of the Young Communists abounds. The CP gets about 5% of the vote and due to the restrictive nature of the voting system has no seats in either the Senate or Chamber of Deputies. They do have a fairly large number of municipal councellors, however.

The MIR. During the UP years the MIR was the most promising revolutionary force. It had thousands of members and was involved in land and factory occupations as well as the occasional armed action. For this it won the implacable hatred of the Pinochetistas and many members were tortured and murdered. The party broke apart in the 1980's and more or less dissolved by 1989. It reformed in 1990 and gave up armed struggle in 1997. Its original policies were supposedly Castroist, however, from what I read now the group seems to have adopted a Bolivarian approach. (See below.) I think the group is rather small and only saw one MIR graffitti. MIR has united with a host of other parties and groups in a broad anti-neo-liberal front called Junto PODEMOS Mas .

Junto PODEMOS Mas unites most of the non-anarchist left – including the Communist Party. Its policies are Bolivarian or left-wing populist i.e., broadly anti-neoliberal, favoring direct democracy, return of national resources, social reforms, trade union rights, Latin American unity, and opposition to racism and sexism. (I should add that I find this desire for unity a very positive direction.) PODEMOS got about 7% in the election to the Chamber of Deputies, but as in the case of the CP did not get any seats. The following groups belong to this front:

Partido Humanista

Partido Comunista de Chile

Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR)

Movimiento Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez

Izquierda Socialista

Movimiento Por el Socialismo

Identidad Rodriguista

Movimiento Fuerza Ciudadana

Partido Comunista Chileno Acción Proletaria

Izquierda Cristiana

Partido Alternativa Socialista

Cambio Democrático

Comité de Defensa y Recuperación del Cobre

Frente Amplio de Profesionales de Izquierda

Asambleas Populares

Comité de Defensa de Derechos Humanos y Sindicales

Coordinadora Metropolitana de Usuarios de la Salud Publica

Corporación Urracas de Emaus, and 36 other social, trade union and environmental groups.

Partido Ecologista. In the early 1980's there was a reasonably strong Green tendency in Chile. I don't know what happened to it, but there are a number of ecological groups. And judging by the millions of plastic bags polluting the countryside, the air pollution and the clear cuts, they cannot be all that effective. Just recently, Chilean Greens came together to form the Partido Ecologista and will be running in the up-coming election.

Trotskyists. I saw no overt evidence of Trotskyism in Chile. I know that a Trotskyist party, the PRT does belong to PODEMOS. But it is not one of the major groupings of the tendency, and is a split-off from the horrible Healyite WRP! Indeed, there does not seem to be any Mandelist, ISO or IMT organizations in Chile. Of course, compared with Argentina, Peru or Bolivia, Trotskyism has been weak here. I think it might be due to the fact that strong movements to the left of the Communist Party have always existed in Chile and people who would otherwise become Trotskyists join these organizations instead.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chile Today Part 2 The Social Neoliberals

Chile has been governed by a coalition of Christian Democrats (DC) and social democrats (Socialist Party and Popular Democrats) since the return to so-called democracy. Back in the days of the Unidad Popular, the DC was old style social democratic and the SP was more radical than the Communist Party. Today, all these parties are economically neoliberal, lock stock and barrel, ironically (or perhaps not so ironically) adopting the underlying ideology of their old torturer and murderer, Augusto Pinochet.

When a socialist or social democratic party tosses aside its basic principles, it announces to the world that it is corrupted in spirit. Thus, it comes as no suprise when such a party becomes corrupted in practice. True to form the Concertacion, (the name given to the DC-SP-PD coalition) is now mired in scandal. The Alianza (the Pinochetista opposition coalition or Los Momios) is making hay out of this situation, an amusing situation where the corrupt are calling the corrupted to account!

The scandals relate directly to the neoliberal methods adopted by the Concertacion. Rather than instituting a proper state or community-run system of education – like in Canada or Europe – they chose to funnel government money to private concerns. Naturally, along the way some officials also dipped their hands in this pig trough. Then there is the hideous mess that is Santiago transit. Pinocho had destroyed the previous public system, handing transit over to scores of private concerns, resulting in a kind of Wild West in the streets. Rather than rectifing this disaster by creating a public transit system – like every other large city in the world – the Concertacion shovelled money into the hands of 10 or so capitalist transit corporations, and the result, as one might expect, is chaos. (Remember, I am talking about a city with six million inhabitants, not some one horse town)

Then there is that favorite of brown shirts the world over – the crime problem. And it does exist – people get ripped off all the time by pick pockets, muggers and burglars. The mass media, if anything even more vile than our own, spare no effort in reminding the readers of this situation. But then what do you expect in a society without any social welfare and a great mass of unemployed and under-employed people, some of whom are still living in tin shacks on dried up river beds or beside highway overpasses? And even if you have a job, 75% of Chileans earn less than $420 a month in a land where most prices are about as high as in Canada. There is a lot of petty crime. Gee, I wonder why? The Alianza blame the Concertacion for being soft on crime and drag out the no brainer of harsher punishment.

There is an election coming and it is quite possible the Pinocho crowd may gain the upper hand. I look upon this with some trepidation, for as bad as the Concertacion is, they have refused to be a stooge for the US in relation to the growing popular movements in Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia. The Gringostate already has death squad and narcotrafficante-run Columbia as its stalking horse. I would hate to see Chile as part of this criminal endeavor.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Chile Today Part 1 - The Anarchist Movement

This is the fifth time I have visited Chile in the last 17 years and never before I have I seen as much evidence of social action. Graffiti and murals advocating popular struggles and radical organizations are everywhere, and most especially in the working class neighborhoods. Much of this is anarchist. Support for the Mapuche to regain their stolen lands is a big issue right now. The three cities I visited, Santiago, Concepcion and Chillan all have anarchist activists. Santiago has the Espacio Comunitario Emma Goldman (See ) which I visited and the Centro Socio Okupado y Bibliotecha Sacco y Vanzetti, ( CSO y Biblioteca Sacco y Vanzetti ) which I did not get a chance to visit.

The Espacio Comunitario is located in the basement of a neighborhood bar and contains a book shop and library. It is also a space for meetings, work shops and get-togethers. According to the companero who was minding the premisis when I dropped in, they have had many visitors from foreign countries this summer, anarchists from the US, Mexico and Argentina. He told me that I was right in thinking there was more anarchist activity than before and that the upsurge was in large measure due to the influx of youth in the last two years. ( I suspect this is related to the huge student strike that occurred in 2006) Most of these are really young, 15, 16 years old, and the companero who was all of 21, said that he was one of the older members of the movement. In Santiago, the anarchist movement has a good deal of influence on one poblacion (workers neighborhood) and will be involved in organizing Women's Day on March 8. Most anarchists are working class, with a few middle class and no upper class members at all. Although the Chilean state is oppressive, few anarchists have been arrested, but the police do videotape rallies. Later using the videos they are able to identify the younger members and then go to their parents. If needed, they bully the parents into stopping their child from being involved in the movement. ( Ah, freedom of speech and assembly, aren't they wonderful?)

The group also holds a gathering at a park every Sunday to bring together anarchists and other youth. There are a number of different tendencies in Chilean anarchism, of which anarchist communism is the most evident, yet there is dialogue and unified action among the tendencies. The most important publication is Hombre y Socidad, now in its twenty-third issue, but there are others like Accion Direct and Agitacion which, if you are interested, are available from the Espacio Comunitario. There is an on-line publication which gives news about anarchism and social struggles in Chile at Santiago anarchists have made March Anarchist Month and are sponsoring a host of work shops and events throughout the month. See

(The photo on the bottom is graffiti from Concepcion and RASH stands for "Red/Anarchist Skin Heads"

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Direct democracy and Environmental Sanity


Many of you are already aware that the British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Process is deeply flawed, but in what manner is it flawed, who has responsibility for remedying those flaws, and who ought to be involved in the design of another process?

Continued at:

New Hemp Video

The following message was forwarded to me by Stu V. 

Hello Hemp Friends, (my apologies for any duplicate mailings)

I'm very pleased to report that our Hemp video has been posted on You
Tube for all to see.**

Months in the making (when Errol and I could find the time) and assisted
by many hemp friends, this is part one, and we look forward to working
on Part 2. We used whatever footage and information was made available
to us, and did a lot of editing to make it fit under 10 minutes. I hope
we did not leave anyone out of the credits who gave us help.

It would be great if everyone with a website could link to this YouTube
URL, so all interested in this aspect of the hemp industry could see it...

Thanks for your help and support,

for Hemp Workers Cooperative
Education Committee of The Hemp Industries Association
The Cool Hemp Company, Killaloe ON
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