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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Three moments of political imagination in Chile and the new constitution

For Mario Saavedra, a painter from Valparaíso, and Nina Avellaneda, a writer from Limache, Chileans who gave me life

Samuel Cortes Hamdan

0. A threat to the popular will

The Chilean Chamber of Deputies approved in the first half of January 2023 that the legislature be the one to determine the 24 members of a commission of experts in charge of preparing a new constitution for the South American country: twelve contributed by the deputies and twelve more for the senators. 

And, as is well known, the devil is in the details of the brake on the popular pulse: ?to be elected a member of this commission (...) the candidates must have a university degree or academic degree of at least eight semesters of duration and must prove a professional, technical and/or academic experience of not less than ten years?, specifies the press office of the legislature.

Leave in the hands of a commission of specialists The opportunity to draw up a new magna carta to replace the one imposed by Augusto Pinochet during the dictatorship is a particularly cruel, particularly indolent betrayal, given the popular demands spread throughout Chile during the social outbreak, which began in October 2019 and led to a first draft, already rejected in a referendum in September 2022. 

In addition to singing in popular, spontaneous, overflowing, acoustic unison, ?El baile de los que sobran?, that social anthem by Los Prisioneros, the protesters of the social outbreak made a specific slogan one of the most lucid axes of their demand: "It's not 30 pesos, it's 30 years," they said on the banks of the Mapocho River or collapsing the normality of the Alameda, in Arica or Magallanes. Thus, they underlined with synthetic clarity that the hooded and the non-conformists did not rise up against a specific and circumscribed policy for the Santiago metro, promoted by the then president Sebastián Piñera -a billionaire businessman, by the way-, but against the crime of imposing neoliberalism in Chile through a violent arbitrary mutilation against democracy and a persistent, systematic spread of educational terror, deliberately dissuasive, and encrypted in forced disappearances, torture and executions perpetrated by Pinochet's police and military forces during the years that his self-imposed mandate lasted .

It's not 30 pesos, it's 30 years of savage privatization, institutional abandonment, prolonged racism that becomes a presidential, government program, persistent foolishness, which results in an underlined inequality in which billionaires govern, pontificate and decide while young people have to go out to the streets. streets to demand an opportunity for free access to education. 

Among many other factors, the social outbreak was particularly beautiful due to its political eloquence, which did not limit itself to demanding the democratization of the military culture of the Carabineros Corps or to problematizing La Moneda, but rather dreamed of the ambitious appetite to reconfigure the agreement towards a balanced future between the various identities that, recognized by the elites or not, make up the Chilean face, the blood of that country from the corner of the world. 

It is in this dynamic context where the list of academic requirements to belong to the committee of experts is particularly offending (Expert Commission in the specific institutional terms of the legislature), since the problem of access to formal education in Chile is such that even the current president, Gabriel Boric, arose from the political movement that demanded the democratization of university studies. 

However, now in the determination of the parliamentarians towards the new constituent process, the implicitly classist declaration, specifically isolating, private, that university students are the only adequate consciences to understand what future the Chilean constitutional framework deserves, stands out. It is a frontal attack against the balancing appetite from which the social outbreak sought the unacceptable, inconceivable ambition that everyone speak in the constitution, not only those who benefit from the structural disadvantage.

Another important detail of the new constituent probability is that ?whoever these experts are validated as such by traditional politics in a country of savage, self-deprecating inequalities, as exhibited in the novel the stone guests by Jorge Edwards or the film Tony Manero, by Pablo Larrain? The approved law that authorizes the new process frames the participants to subscribe to certain principles, some reasonable such as equality before the law and others rather elitist, crafty, confirmed for the benefit of the usual strata, or outright with tendencies towards racism segregationist.

In the first case, that of elitism, the Chamber of Deputies specifies that the new constitution will be obliged to respect ?property rights in their various manifestations?: like no social transformation would have to violate the ode to private property that Pablo Neruda never wrote but Cristián Warnken dared to profile him in an opinion column entitled ?House of the soul? and published on December 29, 2022? for more inri? In the diary The Mercury, Pinochetist accomplice. 

In the second case, that of segregation, the legislature promises that "the constitution will establish that terrorism, in any of its forms, is essentially contrary to human rights", in a specific context in which the fight for Mapuche dignity It has been systematically dismissed as terrorism both by Piñera's right wing and by President Boric's government itself, in addition to being a recurring argument against social dissidence, for example, in neighboring Peru, right now the protagonist of its own social outbreak and witness to his own criminalization of protest in disproportionate terms. 

In other words, traditional politics in this new process of the Chilean constitution will reserve the right to distort and disqualify indigenous protest in a manner while guaranteeing that its elaboration remains exclusively in the hands of institutionalized intellectuals. 

The current Chilean constituent opportunity, thus, is below the ludic imagination of its people ?in the conviction that the game, elastic, always exceeds to propose, like someone who invites to join the dance of those who are left over?: an underlined community of poets whose tradition, suggestive of opportunities towards new social achievements, I want to highlight three specific moments. 

At a time when the top thought wants to suspend it, the demand for justice articulated from the imagination at its start becomes more necessary. 

And in the search for possibilities, poetry? Diverse in forms and deposits, such as movies, songs, journalistic chronicles or novels? he always advances invitations to reconfigure, to dismantle the obsessions of power, and stammers his tenderness against the convenient declaration, self-proclaimed by the dominant force, that his route is the only persuasive one, the merely possible one, in a frank invitation to resign himself to the pragmatic. 

A South American philosopher, Enrique Dussel, says that emancipation involves disengaging from the imaginary mandate of power: ?Liberation is possible only when one has the courage to be atheists of the empire, of the center, thus facing the risk of suffering its Power, its economic boycotts, its armies and its master agents of corruption, murder, torture and violence? 

The accumulated truth of the verses of our continent in resistance says that to declare the dismantling of the system of harassment is to begin to crack it, as for centuries it has been written against the normality installed by dispossession.

I. Shame of the hero

I always like to return to a splendid novel by the poet Enrique Lihn ?awarded at the time by the Casa de las Américas in Cuba?: Batman in Chile, published in Buenos Aires by the mythical Ediciones de La Flor ?nothing more and nothing less than the publishing house of Mafalda? just a few months before the coup d'état perpetrated on September 11, 1973. 

The work, a brave and burlesque pastiche infused with the language of the comic and vertebrated from the absurd caricature, supposes a symbolic revenge against the triumphant story of the United States in the Latin American region ?what José Martí was good enough to call our america.

De facto outlawed by circumstances, republished in Chile no earlier than 2008, 35 years after the coup, the book is a materially unattainable work that we would do well to make available for a playful and literary review of our Latin American memory, but the issue that I want to highlight it is the dynamics of their proposals. 

It has two subtitles: The Twilight of an Idol or Alone Against the Red Desert, and narrates the journey of a bat man sent to Chile by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, for the gringo acronym) at the beginning of the 1970s with a substantial assignment: to dismantle the advance of Popular Unity and the democratic government of the President Salvador Allende.

Immediately in Lihn's story, the string of absurdities begins: a specialized policeman with incomparable technical advantages, the Batman of the author of the music of the poor spheres is rather a pasty conscience early assailed by contradiction: accustomed to contributing effectively Quickly crushing banana dictatorships, in South America his ideological drive to tie up communism where it exists and his institutional responsibility to respect the rule of law come into conflict, as it happens that he recognizes that the Allende government did not arrive at La Moneda imposed by revolutionaries bearded men with rifles on their shoulders and open hostilities before the White House, but rather it was configured triumphantly through elections, perhaps even under the recognition of the Organization of American States (OAS), a neighbor more than a geographical one of the bat. 

?Who is it? ?the first administrator of foreign capital, the right arm of the Great Neighbor in his fight against international communism and the economic inspirer of the clandestinely armed Conservative Revolution, grew impatient to bring peace to a country divided by the legal result of the last elections that had taken place. handed over power to the minority, that is, to the people.

"Batman" was the grim response. 

When poets become novelists, they can tend to enrich the space of enunciation with the flowery richness of the proposal. Lihn's sensibility calculated from fiction what would become a tragedy in the reality of tortured meat: indeed, before the advance of the distributive democracy of the benefits of copper, Washington displayed its disagreements against the ugly will of the Chilean people to determine itself, with tenacity in the threat of disfiguring her. 

But, faced with the disproportion of forces, Lihn also ratified the destabilizing, rebellious faculty of laughter: his Batman gradually dissolves into humiliations and incompetence, disarticulated by the dynamism of evidence that he does not understand, that goes beyond him until it stuns him and leaves him obsolete. despite the high technology of its antigravity belt: suffocated by the sharpness of Latin Americans choosing themselves towards the capacity for the future. 

It is there, in the mockery, in the spit against the face of power, where the writer operates the delight of symbolic revenge? the pleasure of imaginative vindication? against imperialism. 

In its shadow I dare to think that it is in literature, in cinema, in the imagination, in its opportunity for sensitivity and dialogue, in the persistent and warm anonymous conversation, in the horizontal discourse, in the surviving, invisible and elusive dynamic daily life, where both the affections survived, doormats in themselves, and the figurations towards a more balanced society, less boot-trafficked, despite the general's determination to impose a way of life traversed by the howl of fear and custom of the concrete, arbitrary, impunity repressions, apparently at first glance unappealable. 

II. A chance in failure

Twenty-five years after the publication of Batman in Chile, another Chilean writer, Ariel Dorfman, would accompany from the poetic, journalistic, narrative, testimonial denunciation, one of the most relevant moments in the recent history of the South American country: the arrest of the dictator Pinochet, executed in 1998 by Scotland Yard in London, consequence of an arrest warrant issued by the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.

Published from the Spanish office of the Siglo XXI publishing house, also located in the Copilco neighborhood of Mexico City, in 2002 Dorfman delivered to the audience a chronicle that accompanies those months of Chilean social life and that essentially draws an arc that goes from hope and enthusiasm to nuanced resignation, after ?months and months of uncertainty, appeals, articulate anger from groups of victims of the dictatorship, and the fatigue of what is usually referred to as the eyes of the world after? the soldier slipped out of a trial in Europe for crimes against humanity to land back in Santiago de Chile and, after alleging deplorable health conditions that seriously affected his conscience and his perception of the present, memory and reality, put himself in standing up from his wheelchair to hug the military commanders who greeted him with applause, back in his homeland.

The work intertwines the intimate pain of the author with the intimate, nightmarish pains of Chilean men and women in the interior and abroad, sometimes grouped on the British island to attack the dictator from the cacerolazo or the slogan, enthusiastic, confused, appetizing, in search of interpretations for television, radio, public conversation. A book that collects the memory of those enraged by the brutality of the imposition, whose traces join the same victims of Francisco Franco as of Augusto Pinochet, in the same enduring feeling of grievance.

Pinochet died without being prosecuted, much less tried, in 2006. And yet, despite the concrete fading of the opportunity open in London at the end of the 20th century, it cannot be said that in his book, entitled Beyond fear: the long goodbye to Pinochet, Dorfman gave in to despair. 

On the one hand, the book is a praise, punctual, collected, affectionate, photographed, in favor of the persistent struggle of the victims to achieve justice, who did not give up their clamor even after an inclement persecution that annulled opponents of the regime already in Washington, Buenos Aires or the Atacama desert, in the north of Chile. The author recognizes, listening to it, narrating it, portraying it, the persistent will and resistance of those harassed by the military boot and the secret police. 

Among the most eloquent figures of life in the work, that of the Catalan Joan Garcés stands out, for example, who worked as Allende's political adviser during the three years of his government. And, when the Spanish embassy managed to get Garcés out of the country a few days later, at the moment when his plane was saying goodbye to that land that had attempted a bloodless revolution, he swore that he would not forget its dead President or the other victims of the coup?, a promise of such eloquence that led the lawyer to create the Salvador Allende Foundation, according to Dorfman, and to persist in the investigation of routes so that foreign dictators could be tried from the Spanish judiciary.

?And when it became clear that the new rulers of recently democratized Chile were incapable of bringing Pinochet to trial, the relatives of those executed and disappeared sought help from someone who had already spent many hours of his life listening to their stories and pains, meticulously writing down their accusations, that is, they turned to Joan Garcés?.

Despite the outcome of the events, in beyond fear Dorfman refuses to package the outcome of Pinochet's arrest in disappointment, I said, even though Chile reneged on its international promise to try the dictator itself, after appealing the procedure opened from London on the grounds that he constituted a threat against its legal sovereignty. 

On the other hand, the writer affirms that, with its flats, its accidents, setbacks and clear setbacks, the process against the dictator, although inconclusive, opens up patterns of opportunity for the citizen, political and legal struggle, to prevent the perpetrators of crimes of against humanity, in Sarajevo or Santiago, go unpunished throughout the world, sleep peacefully after their structural support of elitist benefits to protect the leadership, in accordance with the criteria of class struggle, and take refuge in institutional passivity imposed by themselves with blood within their own borders. 

?That is my prediction?, notes the author of To read Donald Duck?that the despots of today or perhaps tomorrow are going to look into the broken mirror that [Slobodan] Milosevic offers them, that they will recognize themselves in the murderous and besieged eyes of Pinochet to see, once and for all, what Will it be your destiny on this earth?

Something then, he ponders, advanced the political imaginations of that end-of-the-century Chile that wanted to see the person responsible for so much pain forced to confront his victims: they consolidated a subtle but eloquent scratch, a discomfort that patents the dynamism of living memory, a dignified nuisance articulated in complaints that would continue to ferment until it sprouted again, 21 years after the dictator's arrest in London, in the social outbreak of 2019. 

III. Keep imagining an imaginary country

Finally, in the face of this process of threat to the political imagination of Chileans that is experienced in the handing over of the elaboration of the Magna Carta to a committee of university students, I want to think, precisely, about my imaginary country, a documentary film by Patricio Guzmán that collects the voices ?all of your interviewees are women, by the way? of the various protagonists who overflowed the streets of Chile to advance the dream. 

The documentalist, trained with the Frenchman Chris Marker, essentially makes a cross-sectional journey through the social protagonists of the outbreak that led to the configuration of a constituent assembly under the ownership of the Mapuche linguist Elisa Loncón, also interviewed among the members of the collective Las Thesis; a chess player, Damaris Abarca, who will become a member of the first constituent process; a woman from the front line in the daily confrontation in the streets with the police; political scientists who speculate about the roots and possibilities of the social outbreak; a brigade member of the medical teams assisting protesters; an eye injury victim, among other voices.

It is precisely this chess player who anticipates what we are now experiencing. Premiered in May 2022, within the framework of the Cannes Film Festival, two months after Boric's inauguration and only four before the victory of the rejection in the exit plebiscite in the magna carta proposal elaborated under the directive of Loncón , on the tape this constituent speculates that the worst scenario for the social outbreak as a whole is precisely what Chile experienced in that September 2022: that the initiative be backed down.

??And what is the most dangerous thing that could happen now??, questions Guzmán and Abarca warns of a smear campaign against the constitutional text that he contributed to elaborating, a narrative that would promote the victory of the rejection. ?And we are left with the constitution of the dictator, for me it would be something tremendous, that could happen to us and I think it is the most serious thing that could happen.? 

A dire prediction that would come true.

The movie is called my imaginary country because Guzmán confesses that before his generation ?more or less that of Enrique Lihn, precisely, who crushed Batman with a Latin American ax blow, in tune with the mandate of dance for fair investment of the world that poetry ventures? I imagine He envisioned Chile as potential and free, he endowed it with an enthusiastic assumption of possibilities to trace it better, to avoid conflagrations, torture, mass arrests, the proliferation of dictatorial authoritarianisms. ?I like to believe that dreams come true and that the country we imagine becomes real.?

?Everything indicates to me that we have reached the end of an era, I feel that new times are beginning,? shares Guzmán in a voice-over towards the end of the tape, in which he frames the stones with which the citizens confronted the bodies of Piñera's security: the stones of a new house, the documentalist tells them.

After framing Boric in his rise as president of Chile and going through the different foci from which the people rose up against Piñera and against thirty years of neoliberalism, Guzmán invites us to enjoy the reserved possibility that the country is once again configuring its imaginary dignity , its modeling first in the ideas of what will have to materialize in the flesh, in the social facts, in the concrete historical events, as they allow to see eloquent details of the process lived, such as the transformation of Plaza Baquedano or Plaza Italia in Plaza de la Dignidad, the nerve center of the October 2019 protests. 

 ?I begin to see a new imaginary country?. 

And yet, as Batman in Chile and to beyond fear, Also to my imaginary country it is threatened by the real harshness of the status quo sought, defended by the elites. The current problem of violence against the transforming intentions of the social outbreak was raised better than anyone by the Plurinational Cycling Revolution movement: ?We will continue in the streets with the hope of changing everything because nothing has yet been won?, they declared in a protest around The Currency at the end of 2022. 

Enthusiasm is counterpointed by the protection of conventional profit, badly distributed.

The suggestive force of the poets represents the utopia of a world that, in the imaginary balance of the discourse, in the eloquent claim of the enunciation, defeated bat imperialism and forced Pinochet to answer for his crimes, and yet it is still pending in reach the consolidations of his figurative dignity; or convert, as far as possible, into a concrete transit channel what was figured from the poetic proposal. From the political imagination that helps to detach from the obsession of power.
The problem is given: President Boric will not object to the new constitutional process, institutional politicians will not allow those educated in other models of knowledge to sit at the table to think about what Chile can be like and how it could enunciate its new political will. Faced with this threatening scenario, it will have to be the Chilean people, once again, enriched by the source of their shared and congregated imaginations over the decades in which a grievance persisted, who transcends the difficulty of those accustomed to exercising the mandate, and configures the dynamics capable of tearing the CIA envoy to the point of reminding him of his subordinate place before the passing of history, which, as has been said before and better, is matter in the hands of the people, hands as real as they are imaginary.

Batman, according to the voice of a novelist broadcast half a century ago, ?had already suspected that in this last corner of the world his brilliant career was going to suffer a serious setback for some reason difficult to pin down for a superman of action like him?.


Ariel Dorfmann. Beyond fear: the long goodbye to Pinochet. Madrid: XXI Century of Spain Publishers. 2002. 202 pages.

Enrique Dussel. Liberation Philosophy. Mexico: Economic Culture Fund. Second reprint. 2018. 298 pages.

Enrique Lihn. Batman in Chile: or The sunset of an idol or Alone against the red desert. Buenos Aires: Editions of La Flor. 1973. 134 pages.

Patrick Guzman. my imaginary country. 2022. Atacama Productions, Arte France Cinéma, Market Chile. 83 minutes.

Three moments of political imagination in Chile and the new constitution

Samuel Cortés Hamdan is a Mexican journalist born in 1988. With a degree in literature from UNAM, he has written comments, notes, and chronicles about cinema, books, politics, and other topics, in spaces such as the Centro de Cultura Digital, the Revista de la University, Sputnik News or Reforma. Together with colleagues from the school, he co-founded the cultural magazine Altura desprendida. Instagram, Twitter and TikTok: @cilantrus

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