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Chile: “Anti-Occupation” Law Sparks Controversy

On October 2, 2011, the Chilean Ministry of Interior (responsible for public order and security), drafted and sent to Congress a piece of legislation that would criminalize occupations of public or privately-owned buildings [es], as well as rioting and damage to public infrastructure.

The law was drafted by Miguel Otero, former Senator of the National Renovation Party (same party as President Sebastian Piñera) and current advisor to the National Chamber of Commerce, at the request of the Ministry of Interior. When asked about what he thought of the 37th public protest by online newspaper El Dinamo, Mr. Otero replied [es]:

Estuve viéndola por televisión y eso prueba de que es urgente que saquemos esta ley. Lo que hay que entender es que nadie puede hacer lo que están haciendo los estudiantes, que están al margen de la ley. ¡Eso no lo puede permitir ningún gobierno!

I was watching it on television and it proves that it is urgent that we approve this law. What must be understood is that no one can do what the students are doing today, which is to be over the law. That cannot be permitted by any government!
Occupations of public schools, such as this one, are one of the situations the law wants to prevent. Photo taken by Francisco Javer Angel, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.
Occupations of public schools, such as this one, are one of the situations the law wants to prevent. Photo taken by Francisco Javer Angel, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

The proposed law immediately triggered responses from the opposition and civil society, including reactions from the student movement.

Most responses on Twitter express opposition to the law. This was the case of Felipe Carcamo (@carcamofelipe), a senior-year high school student who said [es]:

La #leyantitomas es otra excusa mas supuestamente con un fin de justicia pero solo es para quitarnos mas derechos

The antioccupation law is another excuse that supposedly seeks justice, but it only takes away more of our rights.

Others criticize it because they think it is a form of perpetuating dictatorial policies inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, as university student Javier Vergara (@javiervergarap) wrote [es].

J. Raul Martinez (@jraul_martinez) thinks the legislation shows the level of influence businesses have over policy-making [es]:

impuestos son “suficientes para necesidades del país”, dice el gran comercio… el mismo que mandó listo el proyecto de ley #antitomas

taxes are “enough considering the country’s needs”, say the great businesses …the same that sent a completed draft of the #antioccupationlaw

This last point was explored more in depth in blogs, where particular attention was paid to the fact that the legislation appears to have been pushed only after the National Chamber of Commerce requested actions be taken to protect commerce. Daniel Arellano, writing for the blog El Kiosco Bloggero [es], raised several questions [es]:

Y para terminar llama la atención que la idea de este proyecto no fue del Gobierno propiamente tal (aunque lo “amononaron” en estos días), sino que de la Confederación Nacional de Comercio (CNC), en otras palabras de los empresarios. ¿Quien manda entonces en Chile?. ¿El Gobierno o los empresarios?. ¿Habría sido tomado tan en cuenta un proyecto similar […] que fuera presentado por ciudadanos comunes?. Este es un punto que debe ser aclarado prontamente por ambas partes para bien de la transparencia gubernamental. Para terminar, esta alianza Gobierno – Empresarios en temas de seguridad se ve consolidada con la premiación a la CNC, del Ministerio del Interior, por su aporte en materias de seguridad ciudadana. ¿Raro al menos, no creen?.

To conclude, what’s noteworthy is that the idea for this project did not come from the government (though they did “touch it up” a bit these days), but rather from the National Chamber of Commerce (CNC [for its initials in Spanish]). In other words: businessmen. Who then rules Chile? The government or businessmen? Would a similar project […] presented by regular citizens be taken into account? This is a point that must be clarified by both parties for the sake of government transparency. To end, this government-businessmen alliance in security matters seems to be consolidated by [an award] given by the Ministry of Interior to the CNC for its contribution to public security. Weird to say the least, don’t you think?

In Diario30 [es], Raul Valdivia explains why he thinks disruptions of public order are sometimes necessary to bring positive change:

A través de estas acciones “disruptivas” –marchas, paros y diversas formas de protesta- los movimientos despiertan el interés de otros ciudadanos y de los medios de comunicación, que es el primer paso para generar solidaridad y, finalmente, lograr adhesión masiva a sus demandas. Es así [...] como los movimientos acumulan fuerza, aumentan su incidencia en la agenda pública [...]

Through these “disruptive” actions -marches, strikes and diverse forms of protest- movements manage to get the attention of other citizens and media. This is the first step before generating solidarity and massive adherence to their demands. This is [...] how movements gain strength and increase their influence in policy-making [...]

He adds:

Pero lo que no se puede permitir es que una nueva ley ahogue esa cuota de disrupción que enriquece la democracia y que en ocasiones es necesaria para impulsar cambios que a la larga son saludables para el país, especialmente cuando se trata de situaciones abiertamente injustas, como lo es la realidad educacional chilena.

What cannot be allowed is that a new law puts an end to that quota of disruption that nurtures democracy and that in some instances is needed to bring changes that in the long run are good for the country, especially when we are dealing with situations that are completely unjust, as is the reality of Chile in terms of education.

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