Dios Mio. What a day! I love latin America.
Sunday night: salsa dancing til 4am. Last night: live cuban band and dancing til 3am. Today: Communist protests and tear gas in the streets...
There are plenty of things I miss about home, but the good ol USA cannot beat this place for action...there is always something boiling under the surface around here.
Today was the Dia de los Trabajadores--translation: Labor Day. In the States, as far as I know, this means nothing more than picnics, waterslides and Kool-aid. But here in Chile, that means an occasion to make any and all political statements about your discontent with the status quo--the education system, public health, public transportation...everything´s fair game.
So I went with a friend into the center to watch the demonstrations..no problem, right? I`ve been to `demonstrations` in Seattle. No way. It started out peacefully enough--lots of shouting and speeches and big red communist flags...But then the Caribineros came out. Carabineros are basically the police force, but often act as riot control around here...When young discontents get all riled up and start throwing rocks at windows and buses and breaking down riot barriers, out come the big green tanks with the water cannons and the tear gas.
A group of us had amassed in the center around the stage to listen to speeches and a local protest band called Inti-Illimani. This band is a popular Chilean folk band that was exiled during the dictatorship for singing about controversial issues like free speech and workers` rights. Now back in Santiago under a socialist president, they`re allowed to play--obviously--but their words still have a very incendiary effect. So I`m standing there, red flags waving all around me, hands stuffed with flyers and radical newspapers and thousands of Chileans jumping up and down in sync, fists raised, yelling along with the words of the songs. And then chaos--something stirs somewhere up the street and we see the caribinero tanks rolling down the street spraying water at the crowds to disperse them. The tanks keep getting closer and closer, twenty-something men throwing rocks and paintballs, occasionally getting caught by a troop of shielded police and pulled into a tank..wondering what will happen to them once inside...? Water spraying all around us, people running one direction then the next, not sure which way to get away from the police while other groups are figuring out how to get closer. And to the men in green, all pedestrians are the same--anyone grouping together is a potencial threat...
So then the tear gas! In every direction tanks are rolling through the streets spraying gas. An indian woman with two young children is selling lemons for 5 times their normal price because smelling them helps alleviate the choking. I`m wondering how ironic it is that these people are fighting for the rights of workers and a new social system, and here are the `people` that communism serves--the workers, the marginalized, this indian woman who is bringing her tiny children into the midst of tear gas and whatnot because today they can make a bit of extra money...But maybe that`s not ironic at all. I don`t know.
Eventually we tried to make it back to the metro and got caught in a group that was being pursued by a few tanks...had to run, fast, far enough away that we weren´t close enough to the main group to be a threat. Dispersed.
Finally made it back to the metro and out of the center. Spent the rest of the day reading the commie propaganda and discussing the education system with Chilean friends. Wow.
I feel like living abroad is like an onion...you keep peeling back new layers. But with this onion every new layer is of a different color and pattern. For now, I´m loving seeing it all.