Thursday, March 22, 2012

Road Spikes are the Last Straw for Me

People have rights, including the right to protest and seek redress for injustice from their government.  If all peaceful means have failed, certain kinds of violence may even be justified.  Our situation in Coyhaique is very different from that, however.

Last night, gangs of (mostly) young men covered sections of roads with these antipersonnel weapons (caltrops) capable of puncturing most vehicle tires, and kids on bikes could be easily maimed, crippled, or blinded by them.  At night, they are all but impossible to see unless under streetlights on light-colored pavement.  Such crimes have been recently excused by the claim that the government has forced protesters to such things. It was also proposed that the youths placing them were actually government agent provocateurs.  Admittedly this is a possibility, but very unlikely.  If any were exposed, it would bring down the government in a heartbeat, hardly worth the risk, and if the government wanted to use this as a pretext for violence, it would not be after attempts to incinerate police officers and their vehicles in Puerto Aysén.  

Last month, I supported the peaceful family marches happily.  I even grudgingly accepted road blocks.  Then fuel ran out. Then cigarettes (one of the best things, IMO).  When I could get to town past protester roadblocks, food rapidly became more scarce at markets, with fresh meat and vegetables going first.

The authorities did very little that was visible, maintaining a minimal street presence. Protests began to become more violent. Moms with signs taped to their baby strollers disappeared from the crowds, people began throwing rocks, and shouting death threats.  Masks appeared and rhetoric seemed to become more radicalized, anti-government, and partisan.  President Sebastian Pinera's government and party were criticized increasingly, and more for ideological reasons from what I could tell than any of the real blunders they committed. Not the least of these were numerous actions and communications expressing both contempt for the protesters and greater concern for protecting their image rather than doing what's best for the nation.

Having said that, the behavior of the protest movement has been worse.  Blockading the citizens and not the military, making commitments in negotiations and then reneging did not help their credibility.  Late one evening, movement leaders announced that limited fuel would be allowed to a couple of gas stations.  After consuming precious fuel to drive into town at 10PM, I waited 3 hours in line before learning the truckers blocking the roads decided not to let the fuel pass.  I barely reached home early that morning, after a dark and worrying drive, wondering where I would have to abandon my wife's car.  Protests turned more violent on subsequent nights, with the physical safety of government negotiators threatened as their cars were surrounded and attacked.  Movement leadership announced they could not control the violence, blaming the government.  Friends (one: a new mother with a small child and her baby both in the car) had similar terrifying experiences.  With all this, the government still did little to confront protesters, showing restraint relative to the level of provocation unimaginable from the perspective of what the law enforcement response would have been in the U.S.

While I always felt blocking vehicles, food, fuel, and even hospital supplies for everyone was counterproductive and foolish, my tolerance was completely eroded.  Criminal violence is not a legitimate first option for anyone, regardless of grievance.

When people predictably began fighting over the last bags of flour in the few remaining shops with any supplies, the government finally went to the blocks and opened the roads.  As far as I know,
this came off without violence.  At that time, black market gasoline was more than 4k pesos/l (approx. $35/gal).


Drunken men stopped our car at burning tires on the road, eying our daughters in a manner making me very aware of the large sticks they carried, and their slurred explanation confirmed we would not be allowed to drive to town now, even to look for food because of the movement...maybe later.  They seem to have liked 80's music as much as I do though, especially Cindi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything".

Last night, another batch of local businesses were sacked and looted, including a pharmacy.  The hospital has run out of important supplies, and after molotov cocktails were thrown on military vehicles, special forces arrived.  In what strikes me as astonishing, this response is widely seen as government repression.

Why should I or the public in general support a movement whose leadership is unwilling to condemn violent crimes and those who perpetrate and support them by co-opting the movement and blaming the government?  In the case of blockading the hospital, these seem like crimes against humanity, and probably would be prohibited during actual wartime.  This seems especially baffling when historically proven methods like the non-violent blocking of government offices has not been attempted. 

This approach could plausibly fix legitimate issues, strengthen support among the community, would not devastate the region financially, would undermine the ability of the government to use violence and aggression, and it would protect the movement. Absent a good explanation for why the movement leaders are not pursuing this, they have little-to-no moral standing.

2 comments:

Bob Rivers said...

Road spikes are such a cool thing when used correctly!

John C. 'Buck' Field said...

How so?