Civil Society, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CHILE: Another Bicentennial – But This One’s for the People

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Aug 23 2010 (IPS) - A bicentennial celebration for ordinary people, envisioned as the start of a process of social reflection, is being prepared by over 100 organisations and public personalities in Chile as a response to the official commemoration of the 200th anniversary of independence from Spain.

“The official activities are celebrating the history constructed by the élite, rather than contributing to a debate on the mistakes we have made as a country, and on what we still have to do,” José Osorio, a member of the Comité por un Bicentenario Ciudadano y Popular (Committee for a People’s Bicentennial), told IPS.

The Committee was convened in June by the Chilean Association of Heritage Neighbourhoods and Zones. So far, close to 80 social organisations and over 60 well-known personalities have joined it.

Among them are the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CEDEM), the Immigrants’ Association for Latin American and Caribbean Integration, the Heritage Committee of the College of Architects, the Communist Party’s Culture Commission, the Defend the City Foundation and the El Ciudadano newspaper.

Cultural centres, music ensembles, theatre companies, historians, university students’ federations and other groups have also joined.

Along with other Latin American countries, this South American nation of 17 million people is planning a number of official activities this year to celebrate the bicentennial of its independence from Spain. In Chile’s case, these will mainly take place Sept. 17-19.

“In the absence of calls from alternative perspectives attracting the general population and different social, cultural and political actors, the Chilean Association of Heritage Neighbourhoods and Zones issued a call to form a Committee to coordinate efforts for what we have called the People’s Bicentennial,” Osorio said.

The Committee’s agenda includes the bicentennial activities that each organisation is planning on its own, as well as jointly organised mass cultural events.

One of these will be a celebration of People’s Cultural Heritage Day on Sept. 4, with heritage routes planned in areas of Santiago and other places in the country.

A grand People’s Bicentennial Day of Commemoration will be held Sept. 19 in Barrio Yungay, a neighbourhood of the capital city.

In the space of eight blocks, Osorio explained, three stages will be built for a southern hemisphere Spring Festival, organised by university students. This will be the fourth Barrio Yungay neighbourhood festival, with theatre plays, dance, children’s activities and meetings for reflection and debate.

The organisers expect thousands of people to attend.

Plans are also under way for cueca dances (Chile’s beloved national dance), a concert and exhibition in memory of singer-songwriter Víctor Jara, who was killed Sept. 16, 1973, five days after the coup that ushered in a military dictatorship lasting until 1990, and a Sept. 30-Oct. 1 seminar on “Workers’ Heritage”.

Popular events are also being organised in other Chilean cities, such as La Serena, Valparaíso, Chillán and Puerto Montt.

The authorities have undertaken several building works since 2000 to mark the bicentennial, such as the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Centre, renovation of the National Stadium and major infrastructure projects.

Rightwing President Sebastián Piñera, who took office Mar. 11, announced the building of a memorial for the victims of the Feb. 27 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, in the southern city of Concepción. He also said 50 secondary schools to serve as centres of excellence would be established throughout the country.

The schools project has been criticised by the high school teachers’ association, which argues that the so-called “bicentennial schools” will only deepen divisions and inequities within the education system, by emphasising their difference from other public schools.

A creative initiative organised by the Santiago city government is the 2010-2110 Bicentennial Time Capsule, which is to be filled with representative objects and buried in the central Plaza de Armas, with the participation of the public.

According to Osorio, though, none of the official activities “respond to the demands and expectations of the social world of ordinary people — workers, students and shantytown dwellers.

“In our view, the bicentennial in September should be a point of departure and not a finishing line, as will no doubt be the case at the official level,” he said.

Osorio recalled that the creation of the first national government junta on Sept. 18, 1810 was the beginning of the process of emancipation from the Spanish Empire, which culminated Feb. 12, 1818 when national hero Bernardo O’Higgins proclaimed Chile’s independence.

“We are beginning a process of dialogue, proposals, debates and artistic and cultural expressions. We intend to continue to carry out initiatives for the rest of the year, and on until 2018, because there is still much unfinished business,” he said.

The country has defaulted on its duty to consolidate democracy, with emphasis on citizen participation and social inclusion, Osorio said. Improving living and working conditions and ensuring access to quality education for all Chileans are also needed, he said.

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