Posts Tagged ‘Chile’

desaparecidos

Toym Imao, “Desaparecidos (Memorializing Absence, Remembering the Disappeared)” (2015)*

In international human rights law, a “forced disappearance” occurs when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization (or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization), followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law.

The most infamous forced disappearances have occurred in Spain (during and after the Civil War), Chile (after the coup by General Pinochet in 1973), Argentina (during the so-called Dirty War from 1976 to 1983), and the United States (as part of the so-called War on Terror).

Now, Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers (pdf) is attempting to carry out a forced disappearance of poverty.**

The aim of the Council’s report is to make the case for “expanding work requirements among non-disabled working-age adults in social welfare programs.”*** In order to do so, the authors of the report attempt to show that (1) there is a large pool of non-disabled  working-age adults who are currently beneficiaries of the three major non-cash welfare programs (Medicaid, food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and housing assistance) who can and should be put to work, (2) independence or self-sufficiency is undermined by participation in government anti-poverty programs, and (3) government assistance to the poor has become outmoded because poverty itself has virtually disappeared in the United States.

We’ve seen all these moves before. As Jim Tankersley and Margot Sanger-Katz explain, the numbers of adults who are beneficiaries of welfare programs but not working are likely exaggerated. For example:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculated this year that three-quarters of food stamp recipients work within a year of participating in the program. That report suggests that Americans often use assistance programs as bridges to a new job, after they have lost previous employment.

The administration’s numbers may be particularly exaggerated for Medicaid. Under the Affordable Care Act, many states expanded their Medicaid program in 2014 to include more childless adults whose incomes bring them close to the poverty line. But the report examines adults who were enrolled in Medicaid in 2013, before the expansion, when most adults who were signed up were either pregnant women, the parents of young children or adults with extremely low incomes.

According to the council, about 53 percent of adult, non-disabled Medicaid beneficiaries worked less than 20 hours a week. Using a different set of government data from 2017, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 62 percent of such people had full- or part-time jobs. Another 18 percent lived in a household with another working adult. Council officials say the data set they drew upon, while older, is a better measure than the one Kaiser used.

Then there’s the argument about the extent of poverty in the United States. While the government itself reports that poverty is still a large and persistent problem within the United States (since according to the official definition the poverty rate in 2016 was 12.7 percent, and the rate according to the Supplemental measure was 14 percent), the Council chooses to redefine poverty in terms of consumption (based on the work of, among others, Bruce D. Meyer and James X. Sullivan).

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And, voilà, poverty is disappeared!****

Finally, they invoke the shibboleth that expanded work requirements respect and reinforce “independence” and the “dignity of work.”

Back in 2012, I suggested we need to contest the meaning of dependence:

In particular, why is selling one’s ability to work for a wage or salary any less a form of dependence than receiving some form of government assistance? It certainly is a different kind of dependence—on employers rather than on one’s fellow citizens—and probably a form of dependence that is more arbitrary and capricious—since employers have the freedom to hire people when and where they want, while government assistance is governed by clear rules.

We can also deconstruct the term by turning it around: why is receiving non-cash benefits from the government a form of dependence but cash distributions of the surplus—to large corporations and wealthy individuals—supported by a wide variety of government programs, is not?

As for the so-called dignity of work, I can only repeat what I wrote just a couple of years ago: what advocates of getting people back to work

choose to overlook or ignore is that, in a world in which the majority of people are forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to someone else—in which, in short, labor power is a commodity—there’s no necessary honor or dignity in work. It’s a necessity, born of the fact that people need to earn an income to purchase commodities to sustain themselves and to pay off their debts. And the most likely way to earn that income is to sell their ability to work to a small number of other people, their employers, who in turn get to appropriate and do what they will with the profits.

As I see it, the attempt to disappear poverty is actually a thinly disguised effort to discipline and punish the poor and to convert everyone—poor and non-poor workers alike—into a giant machine for producing surplus for the benefit of a tiny group of employers and wealthy individuals.

Perhaps we need to follow the example of the mothers of Argentina’s “desaparecidos,” who 40 years later are challenging the government’s attempt to erase the memory of those terrible years and put the brakes on the continuation of trials. In the case of the poor working-class today in the United States, we need to make sure they and their deteriorating conditions of life are not disappeared and that a real anti-poverty program—a radical change in economic institutions—is enacted.

 

*The forty-three figures in the art installation by Toym Imao represent those left behind by victims of forced disappearance. Empty and hollow, each figure represents a year since Martial Law was declared in the Philippines. Instead of portraits and picture frames, the figures hold empty niches, signifying death, the lack of closure, the emptiness, the hollow feeling, and the gut-wrenching pain those left behind must deal with.

Absence remains an open wound. But despite it, the desaparecidos remain present in our hearts and minds. Despite efforts to eradicate their existence, they will never be forgotten.

**Kevin Hassett (Chair, from the American Enterprise Institute, who was appointed by Trump and approved by the Senate in a 81–16 vote on 12 September 2017), as well as Tomas Philipson and Richard Burkhauser (both appointed by Trump), are the members of the current Council of Economic Advisers.

***Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin offered up his state to approve work requirements for Medicaid benefits. Once Federal Judge James E. Boasberg rejected the Department of Health and Human Services’ approval of Kentucky’s plan, Bevin announced that he would deprive Medicaid patients of dental and vision benefits, effective immediately. The Trump administration has just revived its efforts to let et Kentucky compel hundreds of thousands of poor residents to work or prepare for jobs to qualify for Medicaid.

****This comes just after the United Nations Human Rights Council published the report by Philip Alston, its Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, according to whom

The United States is a land of stark contrasts. It is one of the world’s wealthiest societies, a global leader in many areas, and a land of unsurpassed technological and other forms of innovation. Its corporations are global trendsetters, its civil society is vibrant and sophisticated and its higher education system leads the world. But its immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live.

Back in 2011, thousands of Chilean students participated in protests against the high cost of higher education. The most famous took place in front of La Moneda, the president’s palace, dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

According to the latest statistics from the OECD report, “Education at a Glance 2017,” the costs of a college education in Chile were still very high in 2015-16.

But they’re still not as high as in the United States, where it costs more to go to college than anywhere else in the world.

Of the 35 member countries in the OECD, the United States has the highest average tuition at both public and private colleges, for Bachelor’s as well as Master’s degrees.

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Average public tuition in the United States for a Bachelor’s degree is $8,202 annually, compared to Chile’s $7,654, the country with the second-highest tuition cost.

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In terms of private education, the comparison is not even close: average tuition in the United States for a Bachelor’s degree is $21,189, far higher than in Australia, where the price is $8,827.

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The United States also has the distinction of having the most expensive Master’s degree programs—again, in both public and private institutions.

It’s enough to turn U.S. college students into heavily indebted, protesting zombies.

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A former Chilean military official was finally found liable for killing Victor Jara.

A Florida jury on Monday found a former Chilean army officer liable for the 1973 torture and murder of the folk singer and political activist Victor Jara, awarding $28m in damages to his widow and daughters in one of the biggest and most significant legal human rights victories against a foreign war criminal in a US courtroom. . .

Kathy Roberts, legal director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, the California-based human rights group that brought the civil action on behalf of Jara’s British-born widow, Joan Turner Jara, and daughters Amanda Turner Jara and Manuela Bunster, believes the Florida jury’s ruling could now increase the pressure on the DoJ.

“It’s a step on the path towards justice for our clients and for Victor but also for the many other families who lost someone at Chile Stadium so many years ago,” she said after the verdict.

“We presented evidence that started to shed light on what happened there, and we hope that process will continue in Chile and we hope that the United States will extradite Mr Barrientos to face justice in the country where he committed these crimes.”

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The headlines (e.g., here and here) are all pretty much the same: Patricio Aylwin, who died yesterday, successfully guided Chile to the restoration of democracy.

But in the interests of real history (as with others, such as Jeffrey Sachs), we need to keep in mind what actually happened: Aylwin played a central role in the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973.

At the time, Aylwin was the president of the Senate and the president of the Christian Democrats. His led his party into an alliance with the right-wing National Party, forming the so-called Confederation of Democracy, which was opposed to Allende’s Socialist government and served to paralyze the activities of government. In the meantime (and in a campaign of covert action in Chile that stretched back to the 1960s), the CIA was paying some $6.8–8 million to right-wing opposition groups to “create pressures, exploit weaknesses, magnify obstacles” and hasten Allende’s overthrow—as revealed by the Church Committee (pdf) and in a now-declassified document from July 1975, “Agency Covert Action Operations in Chile Since 1962” (pdf).

Just one week before the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, Aylwin participated in drafting and then signing a congressional act to the effect that the Allende government “sought to impose a totalitarian regime” and asking the military to “help reestablish the rule of law.” This document, little noticed at the time, was later used as the main reason for the uprising of the normally apolitical Chilean military.

Much later, Aylwin did in fact participate in negotiations that led the government and the opposition to agree on 54 constitutional reforms, thereby making possible a peaceful transition to democracy. He was eventually elected president of the Republic on 14 December 1989, thus ending 16 years of the brutal military dictatorship.

Still, given Aylwin’s support (together with many other members of the Christian Democratic Party and, from abroad, by none other than Henry Kissinger) for the 1973 coup, history will not absolve him.

 

*For younger readers or those who may not closely follow events in Latin America, the title of the post refers to the title of the famous speech by Fidel Castro, “History Will Absolve Me,” which he delivered in his own defense on 16 October 1953 while in court (as one of about 100 defendants) after he led an attack on the Moncada Barracks.

According to Greg Grandin [ht: sb],

“I didn’t know absolutely nothing.” That double negative is from Sergio de Castro, talking about the killing, disappearances, and torture that took place when he served as Chile’s economic and finance minister during the Pinochet regime’s most brutal period. It’s from a great documentary that premiered this week in Chile, Chicago Boys, made by Carola Fuentes, a journalist, and Rafael Valdeavellano, a filmmaker.

Less than a month later, a former conscript in the Chilean army, Guillermo Reyes Rammsy, was charged with murder after confessing on a live radio phone-in to participating in the deaths of eighteen opponents of the military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The extraordinary confession began on Wednesday afternoon when a man called in to Chile’s most famous talk show “Chacotero Sentimental” (Loving Betrayal) and told host Roberto Artiagoitía that he was considering suicide.

After briefly describing a frustrated romance, the caller went on to describe his involvement in a string of human rights crimes. He said that, as a conscript, he had participated in 18 executions, following Pinochet’s military coup against the government of president Salvador Allende.

“The first time [I killed someone] I cried but the lieutenant was saying: ‘Good soldier, good soldier, brave soldier.’ Then ‘Pow. pow,’ again,” he said. “The second time I liked it. I enjoyed it.”

Over the next 20 minutes, the caller described a string of human rights abuses that he had witnessed during his time in the army. “I participated in 18 executions … We shot them in the head and then blew up the bodies with dynamite, there was nothing left, not even their shadow,” he said.

Reyes’s arrest “was cheered by human rights group who have long fought for a better understanding of how the Chilean army killed then destroyed the bodies of the victims.”

One can only hope the confessions in the Chicago Boys will help bring the other—the free-market criminals—to justice.

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