A Moment of Silence

Today I am sharing a poem by Emmanuel Ortiz. It was written back in 2002. I remember receiving it in my email so long ago. But it speaks to the importance of this date, September 11th, for millions of Americans–no, not from the United States, but from Chile. Like millions of people, the word “American” for me is not confined to the stars and stripes. As long as we take Amerigo Vespucci’s name for these vast continents, we need to remember that they include all who live in their lands. September 11th has been a day of mourning and reaffirming commitment to a better way of living since 1973. A day that puts people at the centre of human society, that rejects colonial conceptions of human worth as being linked solely to productivity and profit; that celebrates the voices of the silenced.

The September 11th U.S backed coup in Chile is memorable, because it turned Chileans into refugees and exiles. Its repercussions are being felt today throughout South America’s neo-liberal economies and the widening gap between rich and poor, white and non-white. I share below, along with Ortiz’s poem, a song of Victor Jara, mutilated and murdered for the power of his song and commitment, by the forces of General Pinochet. This song, referencing the Viet Nam War, shows us how the world is a vast cobweb of interconnections.

Chilean copper and other goods had been a part of imperial trade since the British informal empire in the 19th century. By the post-World War II period, Chile was increasingly under the sights of the United States. Although turning to import substitution had helped the Chilean economy expand a national elite, its benefits did not trickle down to the vast majority of country’s people. This led to support for Salvador Allende and his project of social services, public infrastructure and bread with dignity for the poorest of compatriots. Awareness of anti-empire struggles like the Viet Nam war, inspired and motivated Chileans to fight the loss of their country’s sovereignty.

Intolerable to the 1 percenters of the time, the U.S. backed General Augusto Pinochet to assassinate Allende, and impose Martial law on the country, a situation that lasted until the election of Patricio Aylwin. During the years of dictatorship, countless people were “disappeared”, children were kidnapped, and people were tortured for believing another world is possible.

Chileans have a vociferous and active struggle for human rights and social development, indigenous survival and anti-poverty movements. The feminist and LGBT movements are also more vocal in the twenty-first century. I have included the beautiful “Gracias a la Vida” by Chile’s Violeta Parra, arguably the most famous song of Chile. Although her sudden death before Allende’s election may lead us to believe that she was not a political artist, Parra’s work testifies to her many social and musicological concerns that were rooted in hope for a better life for her country’s people.

For many in solidarity with Chile’s vision for justice, September 11th has shown, in the words of Peter Gabriel, that “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire”. I end with the words of Salvador Allende, himself; comrade, leader and fighter. It’s a good time to remember that elected officials and their supporters with progressive views have been in danger from fanatical right wing elements in other places and other times in history. We would do well to take a moment to think about where we go from here!

Moment of Silence, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

A Moment of Silence by Emmanuel Ortiz

A moment of silence before I start this poem

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has
been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all…Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.

Hope is a Thing with Feathers, Kaushalya Bannerji 2020
Singer/Songwriter, Actor/Dramaturg, Activist: Victor Jara
One of Chile’s most recognized songs, Thanks to Life/Gracias a la Vida, Violeta Parra
One of Violeta’s most powerful songs

A great resource to understand Chile’s struggle in context, is Uruguyan journalist Eduardo Galeano’s classic text, The Open Veins of Latin America.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Veins_of_Latin_America

A Rapist in Your Way

Today’s piece pays homage– and it must– to the brave women of Chile and around the world who are standing up for their right to be free from sexual and gender-based violence. Currently, Mexico leads the world in murder of women and other forms of sexual violence. The United Nations, whose research wing may be the only thing it has going for it these days, has this to say:

  • Approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced forced sex (forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts) at some point in their life. In the vast majority of countries, adolescent girls are most at risk of forced sex by a current/former husband, partner or boyfriend. Based on data from 30 countries, only one per cent ever sought professional help . 
  • Globally, one out of three students (aged 11 and 13 to 15 years) have been bullied by their peers at school at least on one day in the past month, with girls and boys equally likely to experience bullying. However, boys are more likely to experience physical bullying than girls, and girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying, particularly being ignored or left out or subject to nasty rumours. Girls also report being made fun of because of how their face or body looks more frequently than boys. School-related gender-based violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls .
  • Twenty-three per cent of female undergraduate university students reported having experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct in a survey across 27 universities in the United States in 2015. Rates of reporting to campus officials, law enforcement or others ranged from five to 28 per cent, depending on the specific type of behavior.
  • It is estimated that of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50,000- 58 per cent) were killed by intimate partners or family members, meaning that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. More than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner.

In Chile the deployment of sexual violence as a tactic condoned by the regime of Pinera, has left hundreds of women brutally assaulted, raped and treated with sexual violence. Disappearances and sexual torture that characterized the Pinochet regime and then “Dirty War” in Argentina under the generals, have made a very real come-back. In Spain, as the courts collude with rapists to let gang-bangers go free, women have also had enough. In Italy and France, sexual violence is endemic and routinely dismissed as a crime “of passion”. Solidarity with women all over the world is so important, because for us, sexual violence, is not an issue, but rather the framework within which our lives are conducted, on the streets, at school, at work, at a party, at a protest, at places of worship, in jail, on-line, or in the bedroom.

Femicide, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

A Rapist in Your Way

The patriarchy is a judge

that judges us for being born

and our punishment

is the violence you don’t see.

The patriarchy is a judge

that judges us for being born

and our punishment

is the violence  that you’ve seen.

It’s femicide.

Impunity for my killer.

It’s disapperance.

It’s rape. 

And I ‘m not guilty, not because of where I was or how I dressed

And I ‘m not guilty, not because of where I was or how I dressed

And I ‘m not guilty, not because of where I was or how I dressed

And I ‘m not guilty, not because of where I was or how I dressed

The rapist is you.

The rapist is you.

It’s the cops,

the judges,

the state,

the president. 

The oppresive state is a rapist.

The oppresive state is a rapist.

The rapist is you

The rapist is you

“Slumber gently, innocent girl

without worrying about the riff-raff,

in your sweetly smiling dreams,

will be revealed your loving lieutenant”*

the rapist is you

The rapist is you

The rapist is you

The rapist is you

*(fragment of the Policeman’s Hymn of Chile)

Original Performance, Collective LasTesis, Santiago, Chile, November 25, 2019 where The Pinera Regime has been deploying sexual violence, torture and disappearances in response to recent anti-austerity protests
Performances from Latin America and Europe in Solidarity with Female Victims of Violence, November 2019
Performance from Mexico City, Zocalo, currently the country with the highest rates of femicide

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/06/chilean-anti-rape-anthem-becomes-international-feminist-phenomenon?fbclid=IwAR0qy4PvkMWX11h7EtYz-cuQe0Hlw_nwGF0jQm7JqQ6w722QYypJ31-0Qqo

Chile: Forbidden to Forget…

Over a million people protest in Santiago, Chile, Plaza Italia, October, 2019

I was first introduced to the world of Chileans in exile, in the late 1970s, as adults and children fleeing political repression, torture, kidnapping, political rape and murder, arrived in Canada. In fact, Chile had not been know for mass migration until the political banishment of left and progressive sectors under the Generals.

Chile’s self-image, shaped by the Spanish conquistadores and their later allies and competitors, the British government, presented a  whitewashing  of the country’s Catholic brutality and latifundista stucture, in which many toiled but hardly any profited. 

The great influence of disaffected Europeans (Germans, Irish, British, Spaniards and Italians— who came to Chile to seek their fortune, was combined with successive waves of Eastern European and Middle Eastern migration; Turks, Syrians, and after 1948, Palestinians. Also, Chile has been home to over a million indigenous citizens (Mapuche and Quechua) whose numbers have steadily been reduced through the imposition of genocidal colonial rule and policy. This last demographic has increasingly gained allies among the non-indigenous left, fighting for a just future for indigenous communities while supporting the creation of fair and safe employment for the working class and a move to deprivatize  and respect natural resources. 

Mapuche Flag, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

The recent events in Chile are a signal of the failure of a policy put in place over 46 years ago, a policy derived from the interests of Washington (more specifically, the Chicago School of Economics and its kleptocratic allies throughout Latin America. With the assassination of a democratically elected President, Salvador Allende and the imposition of a military dictatorship (September 11, 1973) whose accomplishment was to keep the people in line for maximum profit and sell off every bit of Chile’s natural world possible, it has definitely been a successful foray into super-exploitation— to a point.

The tactics of mass disappearances, military massacres of civilians and leftist and progressive sectors, and the redefining of everything left of centre as a “threat” to capitalist order and good government characterized new neo-fascist regimes in Latin America, starting with the U.S. intervention in removing Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in the 1950s and reaching to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador and Colombia in glaring relief. Refugee production from these countries spiralled and the international settlement of exiles aided in publicizing the plight of some of the regions’ peoples. But simultaneously, active multi-pronged campaigns were in place by the army of the business class– the CIA. Campaigns spread misinformation such as rumours of Allende’s suicide and abandonment of his people, used to destabilize the resistance to General Pinochet, cultural figures such as Victor Jara and Noel Laureate Pablo Neruda are assassinated– these now commonplace strategies to deter opposition to neo-liberal military regimes have strong roots here.

Schoolgirls protesting fare hikes, starting off anti-austerity protests, October, 2019

As in many places in the capitalist world, the acquisitive power of the majority of people is very low. This means the cost of goods and services are not keeping up with the starvation wages received by the majority of the population. Education, health, wages, housing, pensions — all indices point to unaffordability. It has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world with privatized water— and that should tell us everything!

Up High the Sun Burns Down, Violeta Parra, Chile

When I went to the pampa
I brought my contented heart
like a hummingbird.
But there, it died on me.
First, it last its feather
and then, its voice
And up high the sun burns down.

When I saw the miners
Inside their homes
I said to myself, the snail
lives better in its shell,
or in the shadaw of the law–
the refined thief.
And up high the sun burns down.

The lines of shacks
Side by side, yes sir, 
the lines of women
waiting for the only tap
With their buckets
and faces of affliction.
And up high the sun burns down…

(Translation, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019)

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/sep/15/chile-santiago-water-supply-drought-climate-change-privatisation-neoliberalism-human-right

The rule of General Pinochet begun on that cursed day, September 11, 1973, ushered in an era of constitutional dictatorship that suspended  democratic and labour rights, social, political, and cultural rights, denied women’s right to choice,  and shaped the consciousness of both the left and right in Chile. When I visited Chile, 22 years after the Dictatorship had begun, the cost of Valium was cheaper than the cost of bread. I was made aware of the very human and psycho-social costs of fascism– heightened anxiety and insecurity, increased control of women and a general air of entitlement by the blonde, blue-eyed rulers of the country, while the majority of people languished in fear, frustration, and disillusionment.

Santiago, Chile, Oct 25, 2019, Bloomberg

During the progressive years of Allende’s government(1970-’73), Victor Jara became known as one of the most popular progressive and committed artists of the Unidad Popular movement. His fame and integrity were such that the murderous Generals had him killed in the National Stadium in Chile. I’ve included a few versions of The Right to Live in Peace, the “anthem” of the people’s movement. I’ve provided an English translation below.

The Right To Live In Peace

The right to live

poet Ho Chi Minh,

who struck a blow from Vietnam

for all of humanity.

No cannon will wipe out

the furrow of your rice paddy.

The right to live in peace.

Indochina is the place

beyond the wide sea,

where they ruin the flower

with genocide and napalm.

The moon is an explosion

that blows out all the clamor.

The right to live in peace.

Uncle Ho, our song

is fire of pure love,

it’s a dovecote dove,

olive from an olive grove.

It is the universal song

linking us, that will triumph,

the right to live in peace.

El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, Toque de Queda, Santiago, October 2019

And finally, no article on the progressive movements in Chile would be complete without a reference to the popular slogan, ” The People United Will Never Defeated!” which comes from a song of the same name by new song /Cancion Nueva group, Quilapayun and performed by Inti-Illimani.

Alfredo Rostgaard, Cuba
Susana Hidalgo, Mapuche Flag, Plaza Italia, Santiago, October, 2019

https://folkways.si.edu/la-nueva-cancion-new-song-movement-south-america/latin-world-struggle-protest/music/article/smithsonian

Inspired by the original! Thievery Co.’s take on a protest classic
Ana Tijoux, a protest song, released in October 2019

The cacerolazo (clashing of pots) was a protest tactic popularized by women of the right wing against Allende. It involved the clashing of pots and pans as a way for “house-wives” to protest. The tactic has been used numerous times since then, by sectors of the left as well. Most recently, Chileans in the streets against the corporatocracy that reigns in their country, have employed the cacerolazo as a sound of protest!

I’ve included a link to a 1982 Movie by Greek Director, Costa Gavras, Missing, starring Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek based on the original coup of 1973.

And I am ending with the names of those people who have fallen victim to the neo-liberal government of Sebastian Pinera.

A list of those who have been killed by the Pinera Administration to date,
Forbidden to Forget
Photo: Rodrigo Larrea, Santiago, Chile, October, 2019

https://www.seatrade-maritime.com/industry-sectors/port-logistics/chilean-port-workers-bring-operations-to-a-halt-again/?fbclid=IwAR1_wF4gvhjUqLwyzZaMOao_4meSyGf-hgddnsELoY8comRp9h5–FkL7sw

http://chng.it/ZrB6FbQYy6

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-20/two-communist-lawmakers-are-suddenly-setting-the-agenda-in-chile?fbclid=IwAR2gGz10jc6_ixXibKHtkWqb_fYmRIkOS4-7GhDeLvx-ocdLjfuRE9e0IYc