Chile's President Sebastian Piñera signed a law on Dec. 23 allowing a referendum on a new constitution for the country. The law was passed by the Chilean congress last week following more than two months of mass protests. The referendum is scheduled for April 26, and asks voters two questions: should Chile have a new constitution; and who should write it, an assembly of elected citizens or an assembly that would include a mix of current lawmakers?
Nearly half a million demonstrators gathered in Madrid as the UN Climate Change Conference (officially COP25) opened in the Spanish city more than two weeks ago, with young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg the star of the show at a Dec. 6 mass rally. But despite being the longest climate summit yet, ending Dec. 15 after being extended two days, the affair ultimately amounted to little. Nearly 27,000 delegates came together with the supposed aim of finalizing the "rulebook" of the Paris Agreement, which is to officially take effect in 2020—settling rules for carbon markets and other mechanisms for international cooperation under Article 6 of the deal. But, unable to agree on terms for Article 6, delegates finally invoked "Rule 16" of the UN climate process—allowing them to put off the critical decisions for another year. This means there will have been no progress when COP26 is convened in Glasgow in November 2020. UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted that he was "disappointed" with the results of COP25, and that "the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis." (CarbonBrief, BBC News, BBC News)
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a report published Dec. 13 that international human rights norms had been violated by both police and army personnel during the recent mass protests in Chile which led the government to declare a state of emergency. The report said that these rights violations should be prosecuted. The 30-page report, based on research during the first three weeks of November, extensively details multiple allegations, including of torture, and rape and other forms of sexual violence, against people held in detention. The leader of the OHCHR mission in Chile, Imma Guerras-Delgado, told journalists in Geneva that the overall management of demonstrations by the police "was carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner."
The 2019 UN Climate Change Conference began Dec. 2 in Madrid, with leaders looking for solutions to reduce global carbon levels. Leaders originally planned for the conference to be held in Chile, but due to political instability, the conference was moved to Madrid, where it will take place over the next two weeks. The conference started with statements from prominent leaders, notably António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General. Guterres urged leaders to select the "path of hope." He characterized this choice as:
Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), under pressure from the government amid falling prices and rising protests, committed Nov. 28 to define by year's end the destination for lithium from its lease area at the Salar de Maricunga. SQM, one of the world's top producers, already has a larger lithium mine in production at another area of salt-flats, the Salar de Atacama—but operations there were suspended for several days late last month, as local campesinos blocked roads to the site as part of the general popular uprising in Chile. Leaders of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños, representing 18 indigenous communities, pledged to resist any expansion of lithium operations in the area, citing threats to local water sources. SQM has options to collaborate in development of the Maricunga lease with state mineral company Codelco, but announcement of a deal has been delayed amid depressed global lithium prices. This is partly attributed to a cut in government subsidies for purchasers of electric vehicles in China, a main destination for Chilean lithium. (Mundo Maritimo, Nov. 29; Reuters, Nov. 28; FT, Nov. 21; El Ciudadano, Chile, Oct. 27)
In Episode 43 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the current wave of popular protest and uprisings around the world, and asks if the planet is approaching another moment of revolutionary possibilities, such as was seen in 2011. He examines the prospects for these disparate movements to build solidarity across borders, repudiate ethnic and national divide-and-rule stratagems, and recognize the enemy as transnational capital and the authoritarian states that serve it. With discussions of Hong Kong, mainland China, Indonesia, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Honduras, Costa Rica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Guinea. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Leaders of Chile's Mapuche indigenous people on Oct. 22 announced their support for the massive protests that have been sweeping the country for the past week, saying they will press their demands for local autonomy in their traditional territories. Aucán Huilcamánn of the Consejo de Todas las Tierras (Council of All Lands) made the declaration in the city of Temuco, Araucanía region, standing beside Marcelo Catrillanca—father of a young Mapuche man killed by the paramilitary Carabineros last year, an outrage that sparked local protests. Camilo Catrillanca was shot in the back last November while working his lands in the community of Temucuicui. He had been driving his tractor away from an outpost of the Carabineros' Special Police Operations Group (GOPE)—the same elite force that has been unleashed on protesters in Chile's cities over the past days. Four ex-members of the Carabineros have been arrested in the case. (Soy Chile, BiobioChile, The Guardian)
A state of emergency has been declared in Chile following protests that erupted Oct. 18—initially over transit fare hikes in Santiago but quickly escalating to an uprising over general economic agony. Radicalized youth have blocked thoroughfares, burned buses and ransacked shops, while whole families have filled the streets in a nationwide cacerolazo—beating pots and pans to express outrage over the high cost of living. Protesters have similarly taken the streets, erected barricades and clashed with police in Lebanon, where a state of "economic emergency" has been declared. Again, demonstrations were initially sparked by government plans to impose a tax on text messaging, but protests have continued even after the tax was rescinded in response to the upsurge of popular anger Oct. 17. Demonstrators have revived the slogan from the 2011 Arab Revolution, "The people demand the fall of the regime."