December 2nd. The 25th session of the Conference of the Parties convened today in Madrid, Spain by Carolina Schmidt, Minister of the Environment of Chile and president of COP25. In her opening intervention, Minister Schmidt praised multilateralism, emphasized the role of science, and offered her gratitude to Spain for their solidarity in hosting COP. Schmidt also introduced president Sebastian Piñera who could not be in Madrid ‘for reasons that are well known’ but sent a video. In his video, Piñera extended gratitude and apologize for not being able to attend COP25 because it is ‘his duty and responsibility to be in Chile facing the hard times that [Chile] has been through’. Piñera praised the economic growth and human development we have experienced in the past thirty years and condemned the ‘wave of criminal violence’ we have experienced over the past month which, as he mentioned, has been responded by ‘democratic instruments and the rule of law to protect the human rights of all people’.
This framing, however, misses a few of the fundamental points of what led to the venue changes of COP25.
In June of this year, Brazil dropped the presidency of COP25 and Chile stepped up to take over the job. In a matter of months committees were created and budget was allocated for Chile to be able to effectively host the international summit. In parallel to the governmental efforts, organized civil society groups coalesced to work on parallel summits including La Cumbre de los Pueblos (The People’s Summit), the Conference of Youth (COY15), and the Cumbre Social por la Accion Climatica (Social Summit for Climate Action) organized by a coordinating body of almost 200 Chilean NGOs. On October 18th, after a week of protests led by secondary (university?) students against the increase in the transportation fare of Santiago’s metro, Sebastian Piñera called for a state of emergency throwing the military on the streets to reactivateg old trauma from Pinochet’s dictatorship and incite collective panic. After two weeks of protests, a constitutional accusation against Sebastian Piñera, a special mission of the OHCHR investigating Human Rights violations during the state of emergency, and the eyes of the world put on Chile, Piñera decided to do the unthinkable: to cancel COP25 Chile.
Now, a few things that deserve explaining about the development of the social mobilization in Chile in relation to COP25:
Sebastian Pinera is currently under a constitutional accusation and under the constitution, he can only leave the country with permission of congress. The constitutional accusation is essentially an impeachment process used when there is suspicion of violations of the constitution. In this case, many of the procedures that followed the declaration of a state of emergency are deemed unconstitutional. Some of these procedures include the power attributions that were given to General Iturriaga during the State of Emergency, the behavior of the police and military forces who were shooting people at close range (and has not been condemned by the government) and resulted with the murder of almost 30 people in a week, the wounding of hundreds, and the partial blinding of almost 200 people.
The criminal wave Piñera referred to in his video is really the act of a handful of people who have acted under very irregular (? is there a better way to put this?) circumstances. There is widespread evidence of police and military forces allowing and cording the looting that occurred. The simultaneous burning of five metro stations and fire escape of the building of ENEL was not adjudicated by any civil society or rebel organization and has been demonstrated that the level of access and intelligence for something like that to happen is beyond the capabilities of the civil society groups who go on the streets to protest with pots, pans, wooden spoons, and rocks.
The democratic instruments that have been used to respond to the waves of ‘criminal violence’ Piñera refers to, are the state of emergency, curfew, and the proposal of state security laws that actually give the government the power to control the military without multilateral approval of any other governmental body. Other democratic processes that give space for fruitful dialogue to occur, and that could potentially de-escalate the conflict have not been implemented. This shows the lack of political will to actually engage in conversation with civil society groups, a staple of the autocratic approach to governance of the government of Piñera.
Lastly, mentioning of the protection of Human Rights of all people is a bit offensive to all of those protesters who have been injured, wounded or killed on the street for the mere act of protesting. Police forces are being used largely to repress protesters, not to protect the people. In that process, the human rights of thousands have been violated. There is evidence of people being kidnapped from their homes, children and teenagers unlawfully detained, there are testimonies or torture and sexual abused by the police, and most importantly we must remember that this social explosion that occurred in Chile is a response to decades of structural violence towards the most vulnerable. A precarious and privatized pension system, the privatization of water, the privatization of healthcare and education, and many other factors (which are part of the people's demands) have represented vulnerations to the human rights of that large majority of Chilean citizens who live under poverty.
Seeing COP25s opening plenary from Chile, from the People’s Summit, it seems rather evident to me that Piñera’s strategy worked. They have limited the possibility of the Civil Society to respond to the inaccurate framing and blatant lies they are presenting to the world at the UNFCCC. Just two days ago, I walked down to Plaza de la Dignidad (formerly known as Plaza Italia and the epicenter of the mobilizations) to encounter a group of about 30 High School students in their uniforms protesting, battled by a water tank, two police trucks, and police officers shooting tear-gas bombs at them.
Be wary of the stories the Chilean government tells you, because they might be far from reality. COP25 is in the hands of the Chilean government, these hands are full of blood of the protesters who seek dignity of themselves, their families and their communities. These hands are full of Mapuche blood that for years they have accumulated. These hands are shameful and will not hesitate to mask themselves with tales of glory.