Q&A: Roxana Miranda’s fight for equality in Chile

By Zachary Volckert
Published On : Mon, Sep 23rd, 2013

The Equality Party’s outspoken, unrelenting presidential candidate talks about the hand she hopes to have in Chile’s future.

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Photo via Partido Igualdad

Walking into Roxana Miranda’s office, it’s immediately apparent that she isn’t your typical presidential candidate. There are no “no smoking” signs, and her team is eager to sit down and show you pictures of them being pulled away by Carabineros when they protested alongside her after Michelle Bachelet won the Chilean presidency in 2005.

Miranda has gone from an activist to a politician almost overnight. After years of working with minority groups in Chile, she shared with The Santiago Times why it’s now more important than ever for the people to be a part of the decisions that the government makes on their behalf.

Who is Roxana Miranda and what does she have to do with the typical Chilean?

[laughs] Firstly and above all, Roxana Miranda is a “pobladora (woman from an impoverished neighborhood).” She’s a social leader, president of various social organizations, including the president of the Equality Party (PI), and now a presidential candidate. But with all of her duties, she’s still a citizen of the “pueblo,” a member of the people’s communities of Chile.

Why are you running for president?

Because of the social movement that I have a been a part of since 2004, which is fighting in the street for tenant’s rights. Here it’s become expensive just to have a home. [We’re trying to] transfer these rights to the families as private capital. We realized that the authorities, or the desolation of authority, were not resolving our problem, and this made us feel we ourselves had the capacity to drive our country to a future that we don’t have today: [through] an assembly of power that we are presenting, not just through my presidential candidacy, but through races for deputies and senators and regional positions. This time, for the first time, we’re taking a democratic form.

What are the biggest problems facing Chile that you hope to confront through this campaign?

Principally, the massive inequality that we have. In Chile, there is an elite, a very small group of about 1 percent, of millionaires versus the 99 percent of us who are poor. A tremendous inequality. Not just in economics, because there are incomes that are very uneven.

Have Chilean politics become a business?

The ethics of Chilean politics have sadly turned into a business that benefits few and damages the majority of my country.

Is there a way to change that?

I understand that we are the ones affected, and that we are the ones who can change it. If we don’t keep our heads up and unite the distinct struggles in my country, the “pobladores” alone will not come to power, the [indigenous] Mapuche alone will not come to power, the students alone will not come to power. Only a unity of the classes can change this scenario, which is why this is a historic moment for a “pobladora” and social leader. There hasn’t been anything like this before.

How do you think the Mapuche can be better represented in modern Chile?

They are a people forgotten by Chilean politics, forgotten because of their way of life. They have been fighting the same fight for 500 years to keep their land from being usurped. No government authority has really heard their proposal completely, not one that makes my Mapuche brothers capable of taking back their land. We would make one of our primary demands returning this land to the Mapuches immediately.

How would you deal with the anti-terrorism law [primarily used to convict Mapuche activists for destructive acts of protest]?

Abolish it. There are no terrorists in Chile, the only terrorists are in the government. There are terrorists in the state of Chile, but it’s not the Mapuches and those who fight for society. It’s a sleight of hand.

How can the Mapuche attain autonomy without representation?

It’s difficult because they are asking for their own state, which I believe should happen. Unfortunately, this dream, this desire, this petition will not be granted by the authorities because they only interested in the business of their lands, business with other countries, business with entrepreneurs. Even though they a part of the population, their vindication will not be achieved.

Your youngest child recently turned 18. What changes can be made to the education system to give him a better future?

Largely, that education is free, of good quality and publicly available to everyone. This is not the case today. You have to pay for your studies, and whether you’re poor or have a few more resources, you pay the same. Therefore, we’re seeking free, quality, public education for everyone in equality.

How has this affected your older children?

It affects them because in the family that I come from, we have to choose who is the most intelligent to send them to school, actually selecting who is going to have the most opportunities. Choosing what child is going to become a professional? It’s unfair, and an immorality of public education. Education is a basic right, just like food and housing and health.

How would you fund free education?

We are trying to inject more resources. These rights have been attempted to be reached through subsidies and scholarships. We believe this has been handled very poorly by Chilean politicians. We think that these resources need to be invested in order to offer quality education. At best, income for professors, the deans, everyone who is related to education, even at the base level in primary school — to ensure that professors are living in the best conditions.

Additionally, we want to invest money into the infrastructure of education. There are many regions that don’t have a university. We need to build universities in these regions, create public high schools in places where they aren’t covered. But all of this with the idea of free education for everyone, using it as a loudspeaker for knowledge that can be transmitted to all students.

How would you alter the tax code?

The Chilean people are paying, even for the most minimal thing like this cup of tea [that I’m drinking], high taxes. Those who should be paying high taxes, aren’t. The biggest corporations here aren’t paying anything. Any mining corporations that come to Chile, who do damage to the environment, who damage Mother Earth, who take Chile’s resources, leaving us with tremendous damage, don’t invest anything in Chile. Therefore, the tax reform we’re asking for is 50 percent on any of their income. Here, they have been made rich for a long time. It’s not just now that they aren’t paying, they haven’t been for a long time — which is why we’re asking for 50 percent of their revenue. So that we can reclaim a little bit of the plenty that they have made. It’s not much to charge for what they’ve taken. From now on, they are going to pay.

How have you changed in the transformation from activist to presidential candidate?

I’m still an activist. With the understanding that to be an activist is to activate — to activate the minds of people. I activate the consciousness of Chileans. This is what I do. This has plain relations with what I do now, even in the change to a political actor. Because if we do not dispute politicians and report those who are poorly occupying their positions, sadly this activism that I’m talking about will become a crime. They might even take me to jail, along with other activists who are opening the mind of Chileans. Because of this, it’s important not just to be an activist, but to the enter the game and be a politician-activist today. This is the path that I’ve taken as a social leader, I have transformed myself not just into a social leader but to a politician. And this is interesting to watch, because so often they categorize us just as social activists, that we won’t involve ourselves in politics because politics aren’t ours. But it’s time to take it back and stop letting politicians dirty it like they are doing today.

There are photos of you being dragged away by the police during protests after Michelle Bachelet’s presidential win in 2008. Are you engaged in the same fight today?

It’s the same fight. The only difference is that today I am more empowered. All the years in this fight have given me a distinct understanding … living in inequality first-hand and knowing that we are not responsible for it. Not just me, but many other people. Thus, I feel more well-prepared for these elections than from those when I was younger.

If Bachelet returns to power, it will be sad, because she is one the most responsible for all of the abuse that has been committed in my country. The Nueva Peoría [literally “the New Even Worse”], what I call the Nueva Mayoría [left-wing political pact], are the same people that they were 20 years ago. They’ve put on a new disguise and a new name, but they are the same delinquents as before. They appear in white clothes like saints or doves, but they are the same people as 20 years or 500 years ago. They just keep cycling the money through the same familial dynasty.

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Photo via Partido Igualdad

How do you feel about Chile’s relations with the rest of the world?

Bad. We are a bad neighbor. Our authorities have become estranged not just with Latin American countries but with all the countries in the world. If you’re in a neighborhood and there’s a neighbor with poor conduct, when his health fails or something bad happens, nobody is going to show solidarity with him. It’s the same with our country. We’ve been a bad neighbor, and therefore the international politics that have been implemented have generated differences with Chile. Because here in Chile, if they produce a project or a revolutionary process, the bourgeoisie is going fight against it. Other countries organize with these countries.

The dreams of our homeland are not just our own but are those of Bolivia, of Peru, of Brazil. All Latin American countries are brothers. If someone touches one of us, we all have to be on alert, in defense of the sovereignty and liberty of each country. This is what we are trying to propose: that for us it is important to be a part of the government because we understand that countries do not have borders. That there are no border taxes, that to have these is to have a corrupt government, governments that are traitors. The only thing that this does is to divide people, to divide cultures, to divide beliefs. We believe in a grand homeland. In a plurinational state, where we become reacquainted with the original inhabitants, that have the same importance in my country as they do in others, where they are recognized, where they are exalted. Not in my country. Here they are turned into criminals, murdered, depreciated.

Should Latin America itself open more to the rest of the world or remain more united in itself?

Latin America has this task today. It needs to show a signal of unity as a Latin American community to the rest of the world. Until now, the PI has been trying to end the signal of being a bad neighborhood that I was talking about, by taking the hand of the rest of the countries that I was talking about. This what the rest of the world needs to see.

How can this unity be expressed to larger countries? China, for example.

I imagine that the struggles facing the poor in China are not so different from our own. A poor person is the same in any part of the world: they have the same face and the same pain. This why we feel that we have to raise ourselves with the pride of being poor, the pride of being downtrodden, the pride of being from small Chilean communities. It’s with this pride that I think the poor of the rest of the world also bring themselves up. This is what we have to do with the world’s communities.

Do you believe abortion is a human right?

Absolutely. Not me, not you, not anyone else has to the moral authority to tell someone to do this or to do something else. Abortion is a right. The same as having a test-tube baby is a right, to decide for your own body. Today they have unfortunately criminalized it in the public sector. In private clinics, they continue aborting in clandestine ways so that it isn’t penalized. It’s a woman’s right that today we don’t have, and we need to rectify that. Like our right to love — to whoever we want and in whatever place we want to do it.

Chile arguably has a reputation as the most conservative Latin American nation. What do you think has reinforced this notion?

We have a hypocritical society. Conservative and hypocritical. Because at the same time that we talk about not wanting to legalize abortion, we have priests molesting children. We talk about not wanting to legalize drugs, when we have narcotraffickers in the government. It’s weakening us. It’s not so important to be sensitive to abortion, gay marriage and other sexual diversity topics — we have other problems that need to be resolved, and they can’t be without collaboration. But not in a moral sense of telling other what they should and shouldn’t do. I believe that everyone has to respond to whatever divinity is inside them if they believe it to be there. Nobody is a bigger sinner than anyone else.

Are there any conservative beliefs that you believe it?

No, absolutely not one.

Is change possible in Chile without a new constitution?

No, it’s key that we have a new constitution, in a sovereign, democratic process — the most democratic of Chilean history. One where the Chilean people are involved, designing it, drawing it, writing it — one that doesn’t miss any part of Chile’s geography. One where it’s assembly empowers every territory. One that allows us to seek a society of well-being. It all depends on us.

What changes to the constitution are the most important?

Everything. A refoundation of the state is the most important. The public duties of the president [and other major figures] need to be subject to recall. We can’t have people who are involved in violations of human rights [in power]: these people need to be put in jail. They need to immediately abandon their positions. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee these recalls without a new constitution.

What do you think of the current prison system in Chile?

They’ve been turned into human dumps. When you commit a crime, they deprive you of freedom. The prisons of Chile, and I believe Latin America, have the highest rates of murder and maltreatment. They turn into true caged animals, losing their basic human rights.

There has been a lot of talk in the student movement about the former leaders — Camila Vallejo, Karol Cariola — and their new involvement in the Concertación. Do you think they are still with the student movement?

It’s terrible. There is a huge contrast between what they were saying and what they have done in the end. They are just reflecting this society that now has no respect for their word. They’re talking arms with the same people they spoke out against. I weep for them, because they were youth with such capacity and such boldness, that we all saw when they took to the streets. And here they are today, betraying their people.

And those who have gone a bit more mainstream but still do not ally themselves with the Concertación, such as Giorgio Jackson, do you still believe in their positions?

No, it’s the exactly the same. Disguised, but the same. It’s a part of the Nueva Peoría. People who could have been such strong leaders for their community, today are not.

Do you think it’s possible to change the system with getting further involved?

No, it’s necessary to go to the elections in these times. Not to abandon protests or barricades, that needs to continue just the same. But it is necessary to throw out all of these people who are getting rich from their governmental positions and put in the Chilean people. It’s key, truly. We have to get inside.

What would say to a person from the Chilean upper class who wanted to a be part of your campaign?

Spectacular. Join us! Changing the system doesn’t just depend on those who have been abandoned by the system, it depends on everyone. In all sectors, people who are asking for better choices, for different reasons, economically, etc. People from above and people from below — all of us together.

How will you ensure that the Chilean economy continues to grow?

Recuperating our national and strategic resources is key. We cannot permit the growth of our country until we permit human rights to become [basic] rights again. What has been privatized needs to become a right again. What we earn from copper needs to come back to free housing; free, public, quality education and public health. Just with copper, imagine! We also have many other resources: water, lithium, gold, silver — we have the biggest reserve of gold in the world. Who? Chile has it. And where is it going? It’s important that the media is taken as an economic and strategic resource: the big media in Chile does not permit us to educate the people. To change society, we have to be able to communicate more easily and to more people. For each side to be able to achieve unity, to reclaim what is ours.

Does all of your strategy return to finding a way to share all of Chile’s resources with all of its people?

Yes, but not only in our country. We have to show solidarity with other Latin American countries. Look, Chile has copper. Venezuela doesn’t have copper, it has petroleum. Bolivia has gas. Why can’t we, like has been done since ancient times with barter, exchange with each other? I see it spiritually. If God gave us water, earth, the country, fruit, fish to enjoy between you and me, for the majority to enjoy, why is it all going to a few business? They damage it. They snatch it away. They contaminate it. To us and Mother Earth. And they get rich from it. This cannot be. It’s immoral. They shouldn’t have the authorization to leave thousands without food and water. This has to change.

I see a little bit of Evo Morales’ ideas in your campaign. Was he an inspiration for you?

Yes, he is one of the presidents that I admire the most, and who I would love to meet personally. He represents a little of what we are trying to do today in Chile. He is an indigenous leader [in Bolivia], as I am an indigenous leader in Chile. A “cocalero” leader, social leader the same as me. Without the biggest reputation, without the best resources, he came to be the president of Bolivia, by saying a lot of what we want to do. Take back natural resources, reverse the indignity [suffered by the people], and return the resources of his country back to his people. He is the president who I identify the most with in this project that we are trying to bring about in Chile.

Have you used any of his ideas for your campaign?

Yes — courage and daring. That the indigenous can do it, that the pueblo has power.

Who do you support for the upcoming Congressional races?

As a party, the PI is running a grid of candidates for senators and deputies [that support a new constitution]. We have strong candidates in some territories, and we have more than 30 districts where we are recommending candidates for deputies and senators. We know that the binomial system impedes our chances a little bit, putting candidates with zero votes in Parliament. This has often ended in a draw that always benefits the right or the Concertación or the Nueva Peoría to the post. This needs to be broken. Despite having to work through the binomial system, we are putting forth regional candidates.

You’ve said before the Chile should ‘not have borders.’ What does this have to do with your stance on immigration?

There are Chileans all over the world. And Peruvians all over the world. And Venezuelans all over the world. Then why not have an integration policy that doesn’t punish, because, look, there’s a lot of people that for different reasons have left their countries. There are Chileans living abroad for political reasons, economic reasons, familial reasons, and unfortunately, many times they are poorly treated. Chile is doing the same. It punishes our brothers from other countries. Therefore, we are proposing a policy of integration. Because just like Chileans abroad, we are demanding that the maltreatment stops, and that care is applied by case. What is one more brother? But this is not what is done. They are punished.

What would you say to those that argue that this will lead to a loss of jobs for Chileans?

The brothers from other countries who are arriving here are working in low-paying jobs. Many of them are murdered, many of them are criminalized, too. If we’re going to have a plurinational state, you have to learn the culture and the distinct experiences of other countries. In their richness, yes, but also what they express in their food, their life’s history, in their pueblos.

You have rejected the idea of Bachelet as a feminist icon. In what way do you fill this role better than her?

Bachelet unfortunately left office as the first female president of Chile without resolving the problems women face in Chile. Abortion, sexual diversity … problems that are sensitive for women, and she didn’t have the skirt to resolve these problems for women. If she didn’t do it before, she’s not going to do it now. She left us very bad. A woman doesn’t do what she did. Passing the anti-terrorism law? Murdering her Mapuche brothers? Criminalizing my fight for housing rights? This is not what a woman is. A woman has a great capacity for management, and not just in management, but in her heart as well. She wasn’t capable of it, and she didn’t do it … She only helped feminists in certain groups which were comfortable for her to do. She resolved it by giving them special projects, but in actually resolving their public struggles? She didn’t do it.

What do you think of the fact that three women are running for the presidency this year?

It’s a coincidence. It doesn’t mean anything. The “machismo” continues. They put [Evelyn] Matthei [the Independent Democratic Union’s (UDI) presidential candidate] in there to blow down their anti-feminist image, so that the only woman wasn’t Bachelet. The candidacy has been debased into what it means to be a woman, to be my gender.

What steps would you take to deal with the ripples of the coup d’état that are still rocking Chile?

The blood is perpetual. Blood will always call for justice. And in Chile, while we don’t have those who were responsible in prison, until they have been brought to justice, there is no forgiveness or forgetting. Blood will always call for justice. The same with the Mapuche, the same was with what happened 40 years ago. It will always call for justice, and there will be none until these people are incarcerated. There will be no justice until the Mapuche are given back their lands.

Is your presidential campaign a genuine reach for the presidency, or is it more to draw attention to your positions?

No, it’s not just a salute to the flag. It’s a legitimate presidential campaign for the poor people of Chile. They never know and still they have said, “Oh, this is a testimonial candidacy.” No, this is is not. It’s more than a candidacy. It’s a revolutionary project. It’s a project that has been being raised 40 years after they assassinated my revolutionary brother [marxist President Salvador Allende]. We have different faces, but it’s the same idea. This project they are not going to kill. It’s a project that we are raising again. To get a bigger share of the electoral vote. If it’s not with one of us, at least one that is looking to change things. We began this revolutionary road from the head and from the heart. This will continue. If we win or if we lose, we have come and we are here to stay. This is the headache that we are giving them today.

How do you think it will shape candidacies like yours in the future?

It’s going to help a lot. We are opening the door, the path. Never in the history of Chile has a woman of the pueblo ran for president. And we’re saying, “Why not president of the republic?” We are making history, and this history will permit that many of brothers and sisters will continue in my path, disputing what does not correspond to our own rights. Everything that was stolen, we are going to take back. Every drop of blood, we will recollect. Every fish that was contaminated. Every drop of water that was privatized. We have come here to stay and take back what is ours.

By Zachary F. Volkert (volkert@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2013 – The Santiago Times

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