Hundreds of Thousands Protest Chile's Pinochet-Era Pension System

Organizers say it was the largest-ever protest against the private pension system in Chile.

Hundreds of thousands of people took the streets in cities across Chile Sunday to protest the private pension system known as AFP, in what the organizers call the largest march for the cause in the history of the movement.

RELATED: Over 500,000 Chileans Protest Pinochet's Private Pension System

The march, organized by workers' organizations and trade unions, kicked off at 11:00 a.m. local time in the capital city Santiago's in Plaza de las Armas, as well as several other cities.

"We hope today we will have a lot of people and show that the social movements are saying, 'We don't want anymore AFP,'" a protester with the Cabreados Movement told Chile's Bio Bio TV at the demonstration in Santiago. "(AFP) is already a failure, and our political actors need to know that the social movements won't stop."

Luis Messina, spokesperson for the CNT labor union, predicted that Sunday's demonstration would be a "historic" march. "Perhaps the largest in history," he said.The protest comes after several marches in the country to demand President Michelle Bachelet end the AFP private pension system which puts the average retirement pension below the minimum wage.

The contested system also forces workers to deposit a portion of their wages and an administrative fee into accounts managed by private hands. This system handles savings for about 10 million working Chileans.

"Bachelet, don't go without releasing us from the AFP."

Last year, the pension fund was modified to reflect changes in the country's mortality rates starting mid-2016. Workers who retire will now receive close to 2.1 percent less money for their retirement.

The pension system in Chile is a remnant from the era of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, which violently ruled the country from the 1973 military coup against President Salvador Allende until 1990. Much of the era's policies, which introduced agressive neoliberalism and sweeping privatization, are still in the Chilean constitution.

RELATED: Chile Strike Against Pinochet-Era Pension System Turns Violent

"We call on all the working families of Chile to go massively this Sunday, to make it clear that we don't want more AFP, private or state-run, and we will not tolerate cosmetic reforms that don't give a real solution to the low pensions or to the permanent scam that has targeted us Chilean workers due to AFP for more than 36 years," said the organizers ahead of the march.

The spokesman of the Movement of Independent Citizens No+AFP, which translates to "No More AFP," Mauricio Mattus, called on all Chileans to participate.

"This is a citizen movement and not a political one, he said. "For that reason, we also make a call not to attend with political allusions, this is a transversal movement in which everyone can join but is far from having a political tendency," he said.

In August 2016, 350,000 people protested in Santiago against the pension system that president Michelle Bachelet promised to reform. The government is expected to present such plan in about a month. 


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Massive Wildfires in Chile Devastate Entire Town, Kill 6

The death toll has reached six, with the fires displacing thousands of people in a government-declared state of emergency.

More than a thousand houses were reduced to ashes in the town of Santa Olga, Chile, as forest fires continue consuming a large part of the central zone of the South American country.

PHOTOS: Chileans Battle Horrific Fire in UNESCO World Heritage Site

“Nobody can imagine what happened in Santa Olga. What we have experienced here is literally like Dante's Inferno,” said Mayor of Constitucion, Carlos Valenzuela. “We were recovering after the last earthquake, but this tragedy has messed up everything.”

The death toll has reached six. As the fires displace thousands of people, the government has declared a state of emergency and has allocated personnel and resources to handle the situation.

The National Forestry Corporation said in a statement dozens of growing wildfires have so far destroyed some 238,000 hectares of forests in central and southern Chile, forcing the evacuation of at least 4,000 people.

"From the beginning we have dedicated all our efforts and resources," said President Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday. She also highlighted that the priority is "to save the lives of our compatriots."

RELATED: 100,000 Hectares of Chilean Forest Lost as Wildfire Rages On

Bachelet, who spoke in a press conference, thanked the international aid that has reached Chile so far, especially specialized rescuers sent from Mexico, Colombia, Peru and France.

"There are 99 fires, of which 30 have been controlled, and our civil protection corps are now struggling to control the rest," the president said and announced that she’ll meet with intelligence agents in coming hours "to determine the causes of these fires," since it has not been ruled out that the fires were provoked due to the abundance of them.

All affected areas are under a state of emergency, while several cities, including capital Santiago, are shrouded in smoke. Thousands of emergency workers and firefighters are trying to curb and extinguish the flames amid strong winds and a heat wave. These natural disasters often occur in parched woods during the summer and many of them are sparked as a result of human activity.

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8 Ex-Military Behind Operation Condor Sentenced to Life

Many human rights advocates will be disappointed by the court's failure to sentence 19 other military officials charged in the case.

A court in Rome handed down Tuesday life sentences to eight former military officers from Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Uruguay who were found guilty of the forces disappearance and death of about 20 Italian nationals as part of the bloody "Operation Condor" in South America in the 1970s and 1980s.

RELATED: Nazis Trained and Supported Chile's Operation Condor Activities

Only eight of the 27 military officers charged from the four countries received jail time in the high-anticipated sentencing hearing after a lengthy 9-year investigation.

"We are disappointed by the decision," said Uruguay's Vice President Raul Sendic, who was present at the hearing. The prosecutor had asked for life sentences for the 27 officers.

The former military men sentenced were Chile's Hernan Jeronimo Ramirez and Rafael Ahumada Valderrama; Uruguay's Juan Carlos Blanco; Bolivia's Luis Garcia Meza and Luis Arce Gomez; and Peru's Francisco Morales Bermudez, Pedro Richter Prada and German Ruiz Figueroa. 

The investigation, opened by Italian attorney Giancarlo Capaldo, initially included 140 people accused of human rights abuses, but the list was eventually whittled down to the 27 who were charged, as many of the accused had died or were found too old to be tried.

When the trial launched on Feb. 12, 2015, the case involved 34 former heads of state, military officials, police and secret services agents and other operatives of military regimes in South America int he 1970s and 1980s. 

On Dec. 28, 2016, former president and military dictator of Uruguay from 1982 to 1985, Gregorio Alvarez, died while serving a sentence for human rights abuses carried out during his reign.

The deadly multi-state Operation Condor intelligence operation was designed to destroy opposition to U.S.-backed right-wing regimes in Latin America.

Operation Condor operations are thought to have led to the death or disappearance of 50,000 people throughout Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s.

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British Rapper Lowkey Dedicates Show to Chile's 9/11 Victims

The rapper told teleSUR he wanted to use his music to highlight the victims of Chile’s coup, not the ones fallen at the center of power in the U.S.

A global order that promotes elite narrative is why the victims of September 11, 2001 get most of the global recognition and coverage while the tens of thousands who lost their lives as a result of the U.S.-backed military coup in Chile in 1973 on that same date get sidelined and ignored, British-Iraqi rapper Lowkey told teleSUR in an interview Sunday.

OPINION: Chile's 1973 Coup and Barack Obama’s Selective Memory on 9/11

“I think the reason for the discrepancy in the depiction of the loss of life that took place on Sept. 11, 2001 in contrast to Sept. 11, 1973 is linked to the global order and elite narrative which props that up and maintains it,” Lowkey told teleSUR ahead of a performance in London where he highlighted the 1973 coup in Chile against socialist President Salvador Allende.

“So when we look at the example of Chile we have a democratically-elected president who was working for the nationalizing of the copper and for the protection of his country’s sovereignty and I think it is not often we see that story and the victims within that story are sidelined for the victims of the center of power.”

Lowkey is making a comeback after being absent from the public eye for the past five years. He will headline 13 performances across the U.K. where he will highlight social issues.

His performance Sunday was to “give our respect to the progressive movement that has carried on” since the 1973 coup in Chile, “which was based on the work that was done by Salvador Allende and his collaborators at the time.”

Lowkey said his music aims “to recognize these marginalized and sidelined parts of the story and those who were victims of the overall global order.”

But Lowkey’s respect for Chile goes beyond a professional nod as he sees Allende’s life and work as an example for all generations.

IN DEPTH: 9/11: A Tale of Two Attacks

"On a personal level, I find Salvador's life inspiring from the fact that this is someone who discovered the difficulties which everyday Chileans were facing through his work as a doctor,” the rapper said of the late president.

Watching over thousands of the poor and marginalized during his time as a physician, Allende “really saw the true destruction neoliberalism was reeking over society and wanted to build a democratic and revolutionary alternative to this order that was imposed upon the Chilean people.”

Music is the way to reclaim the history of the underdog and sidelined, Lowkey stressed, and it is artists’ duty “to continue to assert our identities and assert our independence as much as we can.”

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