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Chile: Aysén Region and the Call for Decentralization

Protests, road blocks, and clashes between protesters and police continue as citizens of the Aysén region of Chile demand change. Global Voices contributor Elizabeth Rivera reported on the social movement behind the mobilization earlier this month and summarized their demands:

Their demands have been compiled in a petition list with 10 points [es] which basically ask for subsidies to balance food, water, electricity and fuel costs; quality health and education; employment equity and retirement pensions based on regional needs; greater citizen participation in the decisions that affect the region including natural resources exploitation; better access and infrastructure.

For many, the conflict in Aysén boils down to one problem affecting the whole country: centralism. “Santiago is not Chile,” is a phrase commonly used among Chileans who often feel ignored for living outside of the capital. Many of these Chileans have to move to Santiago to access better employment and basic services like healthcare due to a shortage of doctors in the regions.

As a result of a heavy focus on the capital, Santiago has been developing at a much faster pace than the rest of the country. Even the media's attention focuses on the capital, giving little air time to issues happening in the rest of Chile.

The protests in Aysén have brought centralism to the forefront of the national conversation, prompting several Chilean bloggers to weigh in on the issue.

"Aysén is Chile." Protest in support of Aysén mobilizations, February 20, 2012, Santiago, Chile. Photo by Luis Fernando Arellano, Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

"Aysén is Chile." Protest in support of Aysén mobilizations, February 20, 2012, Santiago, Chile. Photo by Luis Fernando Arellano, Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Blogger Danae Mlynarz Puig [es] looks ahead to what might happen this year in Chile. She begins her post mentioning the social movement in Aysén:

Seguimos movidos en cuanto a demandas sociales, en estos días, Aysén se moviliza, en el extremo sur de nuestro país exigiendo descentralización, a un país tremendamente centralista, donde parece que todo pasa en Santiago. El estallido de Aysén nos recuerda lo que vivimos anteriormente en Magallanes, Isla de Pascua, Calama y otras ciudades, donde los habitantes de estos territorios se movilizaron exigiendo mayor compromiso del gobierno central por sus problemáticas, develando la enorme desigualdad territorial que vivimos en Chile y la falta casi absoluta de descentralización.

We remain active in terms of social demands; these days, Aysén is mobilized in the far south of our country demanding decentralization, in an extremely centralized country where it seems that everything happens in Santiago. The outbreak of Aysén reminds us of what we experienced earlier in Magallanes, Easter Island, Calama and other cities, where the inhabitants of these territories mobilized to demand greater involvement in their problems from the central government, revealing the enormous territorial inequality that we live in Chile and the almost total lack of decentralization.

In El Quito Poder [es], Salvador Muñoz says that the problem of centralism is not new:

Los ayseninos afirman que ningún gobierno se ha hecho cargo de sus demandas. Los problemas de Aysén,  Coyhaique, Magallanes, Tocopilla, Dichato, Calama y de todos los pueblos y ciudades de Chile son los mismos. Como señala la Asamblea Ciudadana de Magallanes en una declaración de solidaridad con el movimiento de Aysén, “Aysén y Magallanes reclamamos terminar con el centralismo oficial y corporativo, que ahoga a las regiones para beneficio de la capital, que no nos da participación en las decisiones de política pública y nos impide lograr una efectiva regionalización y descentralización”.

The people of Aysén claim that no government has taken care their demands. The problems of Aysen, Coyhaique, Magallanes, Tocopilla, Dichato, Calama and all towns and cities of Chile are the same. As noted by the Citizen Assembly of Magallanes in a statement of solidarity with the Aysen movement, “Aysen and Magallanes claim an end to government and coporate centralism, which drowns the regions for the benefit of the capital, which gives us no participation in public policy decisions and prevents us from achieving effective regionalization and decentralization.”

On a similar note, blogger and journalist Gabriel Sanhueza Suarez [es] says that the conflict in Aysén reveals a systemic problem:

El problema de Aysén es mucho más profundo que tratar de atender demandas sectoriales… o de acallar las movilizaciones enviando fuerzas especiales.

Es un problema sistémico, que implica repensar radicalmente la forma de entender el país, sacarse para siempre el chip del centralismo. Y sobre todo pensar e implementar políticas audaces que transforme la regionalización de una consigna demagógica a una realidad que nos permita tener un Chile justo en todas las esquinas de su territorio.

The problem of Aysén is much deeper than trying to address sectoral demands … or silencing the protests by sending special forces.

It is a systemic problem, which involves radically rethinking the way we understand the country, removing the centralism chip forever. And above all to think and implement bold policies to transform regionalization from a demagogic slogan to a reality that will allow us to have a fair Chile in all the corners of its territory.

Finally, Kaos en la Red [es] published a post by Patricio Segura from Aquí Aysén [es], a blog written from Aysén that has been covering the movement. Patricio ensures that this social movement wants to influence all Chile, not just Aysén.

[...] el Movimiento Social por la Región de Aysén no debe ser visto sólo como una revuelta por y para los ayseninos. Tiene mucho del país que queremos construir, donde se consideren las particularidades de cada ciudadano, de cada territorio. Nuestro tema es la verdadera descentralización, la verdadera equidad, el verdadero respeto, todo lo cual en el mercado no se puede transar.

Los habitantes de Aysén no queremos cercar con alambres de púas la región para que no llegue nadie más. Queremos ser un aporte para Chile y para el mundo, con lo que somos, con los bienes comunes presentes en este vasto y hermoso territorio, pero no queremos morir en el intento.

[...] the Social Movement for the Aysén Region should not be viewed merely as a revolt by and for the people of Aysén. It involves a lot of the country which we want to build, where the particularities of each citizen, of each territory, are considered. Our issue is real decentralization, true equity, true respect, all of which cannot be compromised in the market.

The people of Aysén don't want a barbed wire fence around the region to keep every one else away. We want to be a contribution to Chile and the world, with what we are, with the common good present in this vast and beautiful land, but we don't want to die trying.

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