Bombs in Santiago and the Urgent Need of Deep Reflection

(by: Felipe Ramirez; Translated by: Daniel Gutiérrez)

Note: On September 8th, a bomb blew up in a metro station of Santiago, Chile. Although the city has witnessed more than 200 explosions over the last five years, this was the first time in which the targets were civilians—until now all the bombs attacks had been directed towards “symbolic targets” as banks, churches, and police stations. However, both the hour of the explosion (2:30pm) and the place were the bomb was left (one of the most transited metro station in Santiago) made this terrorist attack the most serious one. The blast injured 14 people, one of who—a female janitor who had direct contact with the bomb, which was put in a trashcan—lost several fingers of his hand. Even though three people were accused three weeks ago, the investigations are still in progress.

In this article the libertarian journalist Felipe Ramirez examines the incident, developing a lucid analysis of different hypothesis that might explain the terrorist attack. Then he concludes with some reflections on the role that the Left should play before incidents like this.

The terrorist attack that affected 14 people in the outskirts of the Military Academy metro station has suddenly put a number of pending issues for the Left to discuss and to debate. Among these the forever complicated issue of violence in protests, above all in student demonstrations, and the historic presence of agitators operating within the most radicalized organizations.

First thing is first — this is a condemnation of an attack that, regardless of who the authors are, hit the Chilean people and left wounded of varying severity. This has been the general tone of many proclamations out of different leftist organizations. Regardless, it’s worth expressing clearly and through whatever medium that this attack is not only condemned, but that there exists a solidarity between the Left and the victims and their families.

This comes at a moment in which, almost automatically, suspicion has been cast upon anarchist groups. While it is not possible to simply disregard altogether the participation of a single unbalanced person or group of people that stake themselves on the far Left, history also tells that we cannot ignore the possible participation of state agents or neo-fascist groups in planting the bomb. Especially considering the added relevance of a context in which the government is besieged by the pressure formed by a neoliberal right against the advancement made by a timid wing of the progressive New Majority,

A point that one also cannot ignore is that in a few weeks an anti-terrorist world summit will be held in the United States, in which Chile will participate in different sections, such as receiving prisoners from Guantánamo, providing support together with other Latin American governments for the imperialist strategy in the Middle East as well as restructuring the Forces of Security of the State and the Armed Forces under North American financing and advice. As we mentioned in a column published on our home website some time ago, a debate is indispensable regarding how to entrench democracy in our Armed Forces and that discussion is necessarily incorporated into debates regarding intelligence apparatuses in a democratic context.

The climate of insecurity that is being created can be a determinant for the government to accept the conditions of the United States and to re-establish a logic of intelligence and security—for example its compromise to an Antiterrorist Law respectful of Human Rights issues. Especially when congress is currently considering repealing the current Antiterrorist Law. It is important to examine the facts coldly and objectively, and close ranks by condemning the attack, and such has been the response of the entire Left. Secondly, we must make decisions regarding the future, face pending debates and deepen our own compromise, while fighting the fear that hopes to implant itself into the public opinion.

First Hypothesis: Insurrectional Anarchism

In the eyes of the media and various authorities, the first people to be suspected of the crime were the “anarchists,” who have claimed to be responsible for various bombings in past years. While the communiques that have justified these types of action are heterogeneous, many have situated themselves on an anti-social position, critiquing not only the state or “power”, but also the “masses.” The allusion to chaos and violent destruction of the system, to figures such as Severino di Giovanni and to the logic of “Ai Ferri Corti”, are used by such various groups.

However, the claimed attacks have always been in symbolic places and they never desired to produce victims, not even when the unfortunately famous “bomb cases” were created in spaces in which people were around. The only two victims out of these series of bombings were in fact the very same perpetrators.

Of course, it would be irresponsible to rule-out the existence of provocateurs and infiltrators in left spaces that push for the fulfillment of criminal actions with the objective of creating an environment that would justify the persecution of leftist organizations. Examples of such infiltrations have already been investigated An example appears in the text “The Trap: History of an Infiltration” that recalls how an agent of the dictatorship’s intelligence created a faction within the MIR [Revolutionary Left Movement], pushed for radicalized actions and ultimately killed various youth during its intent to reach the “big fish” of the resistance.

Nor can we rule out the existence of some leftists that have such a distaste towards the life of their “enemies” that they carryout such an attack.

Second Hypothesis: Apparatuses of Intelligence

Historically, security apparatuses of the State aimed to infiltrate leftist and/or social movements. From police agents within the first unions to the integration of agent provocateurs within political parties, this practice has been systematic for more than a century.

The Ohkrana, the czarist secret police, came to infiltrate the armed wing of the Bolshevik party, and in Chile the army inserted Osvaldo “Guatón” Romo into the position of community leader in Lo Hermida [during the Popular Unity. Following the Coup in 1973 he appeared recruiting members into the National Intelligence Directory (DINA).

During the first years of the transition, la Concertación deployed an intelligence apparatus called “the Office” in order to disarticulate leftist groups that continued proclaiming an armed struggle. In 1992, this space, formed of militants of the Socialist Party (PS) that contacted former rodriguistas [i.e. members of the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodriguez] miristas [members of the MIR] to collaborate with the government, mounted an operation that sold arms to the “Mirista Detachment – People in Arms” to subsequently conduct searches on said group.

Meanwhile, the CNI not only mounted false encounters to assassinate prisoners and robbed banks to finance itself — killing two executives en Calama in 1981 — but also blew up an automobile in front of the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Argentina, due to tensions that existed in the root of his foreign work.

It’s impossible to not mention two cases that occurred in the decade following the return of democracy in Chile. The first is the so called “Post Bomb Case” that occurred in 2001 shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. In that moment, two dark characters (Humberto López Candia, an old informer of “the Office” and ex-mirista, along with Lenin Guardia, an ex-mirista and ex-socialist and “intelligence analyst”) sent two post-bombs to the US embassy in Santiago and the office of attorney Luis Hermosilla and then contacted the government to turn in information about the responsible suspects. As the police investigation unfolded, the objective was to create an atmosphere of fear that would allow them to make money by selling information to the Interior Ministry and that businessmen and politicians alike would hire them as security experts.The second allusion to the intelligence memorandum is Álvaro Corbalan, former chief officer of the National Intelligence Center of the Dictatorship (CNI) attempted to integrate himself into the government of Sebastián Piñera in May 2011. The old repressive functionary offered to support the work of the ANI intelligence in order to neutralize the action of Mapuche and anarchist groups, while advancing a policy of “neutralizing the politics of Michelle Bachelet.” He denounced that the functionaries of the mentioned ANI would turn in information about politicians of the then Coalition government. As he stated at that moment on University Radio Chile, he would establish contact through Senator Francisco Chahuán.

Third Hypothesis: The Extreme Right

The Chilean right has always been characteristically extreme when it comes to defending their positions and their privileges. In 1891 the aristocracy launched the marines to bring down the president, whose program sought to end the salt monopoly. During the 20th century, it didn’t think twice when using the military to repress strikes.

In the 1930s, republican militias were formed as paramilitary organizations that organized 80,000 people in regiments all along the country, to combat the Armed Forces of the then “Socialist Republic.” It’s motto was “Order, Peace, Home and Country.” Together with the National Action Party, they fought to create a corporatist state. In that same decade, the National Socialist Movement of Chile formed shock troops — the Nazi Assault Troop — to fight leftist organizations on the street.

By the 1970s, the right put its money on terrorism and bombs to avoid Salvador Allende taking office. Assassinations, attacks against national infrastructure and the action of the Operational Brigades of Special Forces of “Country and Liberty” moved to create the conditions for a coup d’etat. Following the September 11th 1973, various of their activities were incorporated into the DINA.

While quite some time has passed since that epoch, there have been various declarations made by the bourgeoisie that have threatened to retake that path if their demands are not met, the labor unions don’t behave themselves or the timid reforms made by the government are not halted. Such is what Sven von Appen said during the port workers’ strike. He affirmed that if President Bachelet does a poor job steering the economy “we will look for a new Pinochet.” This posture was confirmed by the President of the retailer “La Polar1 in May of this year when he assured that “afterwards, there’s no need to hurt oneself if new reformulations of Country and Liberty appear” — a clear threat to the government and the Left.

Elsewhere, old neo-nazi groups or pinochetists that have organized themselves following the first decade of the millennium have abandoned the public sphere, but that does not mean that they’ve abandoned their activism or that they’ve disbanded. Whether its a marginal effort to clean their skinhead image on the street, or the deployment of political structures like the old “National Order Front,” it would be a grave error to ignore them, especially after the unveiling of links with members of the security apparatus of the State after death of Tomás Vilches in 2006.

The Urgency to Reflect

Its clear that, at the moment, its difficult to know which of the three options it is. Nor is it about playing detective and trying to find out who is the guilty party behind the Military Academy bombing. But it is worth identifying risk factors that in one way or another contradict the development of the political work of the Left and prevents it from advancing.

Among them exist, as we previously said, the existence of isolated and radicalized groups with poor definition of “social war,” the deployment of provocateurs and intelligence officers used to trigger repression, perfect repressive legislation through anti-terror laws and other tools of the State, or the reunification of an extreme right, as it is the case in Europe.

Alongside a firm rejection of this type of action in general terms, the Left has to develop a much more urgent debate regarding violence and its consequences.

During the last years we have lacked a decision regarding a position before a series of events that, despite being counterproductive and highly questionable, left us unmarked by the Left. For fear of being called “yellow” or “reformist”, as if these denominations correspond to a discursive, aesthetic or merely “tactical” element.

In a similar fashion, we stay silent when during the brave student struggle, grave infrastructural damage was caused in various high schools that were occupied. We did the same when some, taking advantage of the student struggle, went into the streets and torched buses, in more than one case while passengers rode inside.

August the 4th 2011, the social movement for education was capable of taking to the street to demang a free public education of high quality despite the fact that the government attempted to deny us our right to protest. While, President Piñera attempted to prohibit our marches down the avenues using the Carabineros, thousands of people took the center of Santiago and exercised their right to self-defense, lifted barricades and legitimately asserted their rights by force. This won legitimacy is lost through actions without justification like the current bombing.

This is not about equating the attack on the Military Academy with the above actions, that to this moment no one has justified, but about overcoming obstacles that make it harder for us to take a clear position before the subject of violence beyond the current conjuncture. Nor is this about reducing the problem to an abstract plane of ethics, but rather placing things in perspective: the social movement has the right to defend its rights, and this includes the right to challenge existing legal frameworks or government orders. But the social struggle cannot be an excuse to believe that the bombing is about exercising “a method of struggle” despite how radical it seems.

Lastly, you cannot properly asses this issue without the consideration of structural violence in Chilean society. The social differences are clear and evident for those who wish to see them: the wages are poor, the pensions miserable, the current legal mark is designed to impede or make difficult social organization and marginality is a favored tool of the powerful to take away incentive.

When everything else fails, there is nothing better than reliving fear.” The narrative imposed by the civil-military dictatorship emerges through events like these. In the streets it is possible to hear comments that allude to a coup d’etat, and the lack of trust towards the Other, nurtured little by little in these years, will transform itself into a daily culture.

The Left is challenged to confront and combat fear through organization, with political clarity and political courage. Militancy as pass-time must be overcome, and we have to assume that there is not space for naivety and romantic narratives when we face these kinds of violence.

1 La Polar is one of the largest retailers in Chile. In 2011, La Polar’s executives were involved in one of the most significant corporate frauds of Chile’s business story. As most retailers in Chile, an important amount of La Polar’s profits stems from its unregulated granting of consumer credit cards to lower-income people. The fraud was discovered when the company’s unilateral renegotiation of their consumers’ debt became public.

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