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Entries tagged "chile"

Camila Vallejo's Letelier-Moffitt Acceptance Speech

October 17, 2012 ·

I would like to thank the Institute for Policy Studies. I thank IPS not only for this Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award  that you've given the Chilean Students Movement for our struggle to recover the right to an education, but also for what you stand for and your ties to everything that's happening today in Chile.

Camila Vallejo speaksAfter 39 years, it's impossible — even for young people like us who were born after 1988 — to study the history of Orlando Letelier or anyone else who was tortured or assassinated during the dictatorship without feeling paid. We feel the pain of injustice, the pain of that inhumanity, and the pain of a great blow to democracy that hasn't healed to this day.

And although there's been a powerful attempt to erase our collective memory and silence our entire nation, in Chile we won't forget. We can't forget the Pinochet dictactorship's victims, just as we can't forget the aspirations of the movement that gave rise to Salvador Allende's government.

That movement was interrupted by a violent coup and a brutal and bloody dictatorship. But it wasn't defeated, it was interrupted. Its driving force and principles were to defend the interests and dignity of the people.

That movement respected human rights while aspiring to grant all men and women access to a decent education and quality health care. That movement aimed to bring the benefits of our nation's natural wealth to all Chileans. That movement built sovereignty while strengthening democracy.

In that movement, men and women developed the awareness and will to organize for justice and freedom.

I believe that the Institute, through its work, represents women and men like Ronni and Orlando — people who embodied this movement's ideals and gave their lives for their activism.

It is with sorrow, but also with joy and hope that we cherish the ideas and ideals that embody this movement — the defense of human rights and the struggle for social justice.

Many Chileans are now taking back the reins of history, as indicated by today's great social movements. We must recover from the Pinochet dictatorship's terrible consequences if we want to have a true democracy.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights affirmed that even today there still is no justice in Chile because our electoral sytstem guarantees that human rights violators are over-represented in our parliament, relative to their victims.

In our country, there is no justice. Even if we don't have a dictator anymore, we still haven't gotten rid of the political model that his regime imposed upon us — a market-driven dictatorship. This neoliberal model has proven to be incompatible with respect for human rights. When the great wealth of the very few is derived from the life and work of the vast majority, it isn't compatible with democracy.

Our best way to thank you for this award is to carry on with the historic work to which we have dedicated our lives. We will continue to fight for universal, high-quality, and free public education, workers' rights, and excellent health care for all. We will fight to nationalize Chile's natural resources once again. We will continue the struggle for self-determination and respect that our indigenous peoples deserve.

Today, Chile's indigenous people are a shining example of resistance to the repression and militarization they endure at the hands of our government. We should fight for a new Chilean Constitution, which will shed the neoliberal state the dictatorship imposed on us for the  benefit the nation's richest people.

As Allende said, the Chilean people's struggle isn't a fight among generations, and it's certainly not the monopoly of one political party. This must be a struggle by workers, students, professionals, and many social and political movements ready to take on the challenge of joining together despite our differences, because we have grasped the historic challenge that we face.

That is why I would like to dedicate this award not just to all Chilean students, who technically won it, but also to our professors and teachers, as well as the indigenous peoples of Chile.

Appropriately enough, in Chile we celebrate Teachers Day every October 16. Just yesterday, we paid tribute to them.

I am also dedicating this award to the indigenous Mapuche people currently held as political prisoners — including the four who have been on a hunger strike for nearly two months. After hundreds of years of resistance, they are not giving up the fight for their land or their right to their own culture. This award is for everyone who is fighting to make Chile a better place.

Camila Vallejo is the vice-president of the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile). She and Noam Titelman accepted a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies.

Tiffany Dena Loftin's Letelier-Moffitt Award Speech

October 17, 2012 ·

Tiffany Dena Loftin at Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award 2012

I consider it a honor to have been asked to present this award to the Chilean Student Movement and to the two remarkable leaders seated here before me, Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman.

I serve as president of the United States Student Association, the country’s oldest and largest student run student lead organization. For 65 years, we have pressured decision-makers for an accessible and affordable higher education for everyone. This year, student leaders and allies across the country have focused on federal and state-based legislation that give undocuments students an opportunity to apply for federal loans and afford a public education.

We have mobilized students across the country to register to vote, to fight against budget cuts for important programs for communities of color, and we demand corporate accountability and student loan debt forgiveness. All while training young people to build community by learning skills that build real power on their campus to fight for a just society.

Many of our students are inspired and fired up from the strategy and power lead forward by the Chilean Student Movement.

They have created and sustained, for over a year and a half, one of the most dynamic student movements the world has ever seen, raising up the right to education as a fundamental right for every student in Chile and inspiring the tactics of other student organizations across the world.

They have organized a half million people onto the streets of Chile, a nation of only 17 million people. That would be the equivalent of us getting over 9 million people on the streets in this country.

These brave demonstrators have stood up to brutal police repression, and they come back the next day even stronger. Camila has faced death threats. One senior government official tweeted to they wanted her dead but Camila did not stand down. She stood up defiantly and said: “What motivates me most is to fight for the dignity of human beings.”

The organizing that has held this movement together motivates me because the tactics are non-traditional, non-violent, and accessible so that every student is educated.

They have rethought social protest in bold and often humorous ways, from kissathons to superhero dance offs, to a mass zombie Michael Jackson Thriller dance routine.

They have innovated with social media — Camila has a half million followers on twitter.

They have forged alliances with miners and unions and a broad spectrum of Chilean societies.

They have focused and never compromised on their demands for free universal education, and they have rejected “piecemeal” government offers of reform. They have refused to be bought off.

While focusing in on education, they’ve made the critical leap to the larger development model and the inequality that is endemic in that model.

For us in the United States, they are a model of forcing a society to face and grapple with the giant crisis of millions of students who cannot repay their student loan debt.

This Chilean Student Movement is led by internationalists. They are making links to, and helping to motivate, a global movement. They see the links from the indignations of Spain to the revolutionaries of Egypt to the Occupiers of the United States.

Tonight, I pledge to you that students of the United States stand in solidarity with you, we have your back. We join in your demands to end student debt fairly and justly, and will continue to fight for a free education.

Tiffany Dena Loftin, president of the United States Student Association, presented Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman with a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies.


What the Chilean Miners Taught Me

October 25, 2010 ·

I’ve spent much time of late wondering about the connections between progressive movements and art.  I recognize how grand a statement this is, combining, as it does, an ill-defined political perspective with a term that encompasses the sum of creative expression.  Still, there is a long history of art-infused political action on the left in America; I’m thinking especially of the civil rights movement which, in some ways, represented the apotheosis of the arts and politics mixture.   Who can forget the images of luminaries like James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte participating in civil rights marches across the country, or the sounds of movement leaders singing We Shall Overcome?  In this decade, many of us spent hours staring at Shepard Fairey’s once iconic (and now, inevitably, oft-parodied) depiction of then Senator Obama as a heroic figure swathed in red, white and blue. 

Yet something occurred to me as I watched the Chilean miners ascend from their temporary prison below the earth to their families and throngs of waiting press above.  I realized that the most salient connection between progressive politics and art is imagination.

This was surely an odd time to be struck by such a revelation.  First, the rescue itself was an apolitical affair, carried out by people of various political beliefs (one would assume) who’d descended on Chile from locations around the world.  Second, although we occasionally heard singing in the background as reporters described the rescue in minute detail, there wasn’t much art.  However, each time I read an update about the progress of the workers who were attempting to rescue the miners, or saw pictures of the families waiting and hoping, and then, last week, when I saw the miners ascend one after another from the ground, I realized that the trajectory of this particular story approximated, in micro, the popular movements that I grew up reading about in school.  I reveled in the miners’ victory because it represented the triumph of imagination over the seemingly unalterable rules of reality. 

I became fixated on the power of imagination as I watched the story unfold, and the way imagination can sustain a vision of brighter possibilities, even when such possibilities seem, well, impossible.  The same type of imagination that sustains art – that enables someone to, say, shape a new reality on a blank page, canvas, building wall, from a piece of clay – sustains progressive movements.  This link is important for many reasons, not least of which because contemporary progressive movements all struggle to sustain a kind of prophetic vision about a future that could happen, not the kind of future that probably will happen if things remain the same.  As I saw the miners celebrating with their families, I couldn’t help but think how heartening it was to see a group of people work towards a common goal, understanding that they could fail, and imagining, all the same, that they wouldn’t.