(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Following massive protests across Chile and the repressive measures taken by the Chilean government over recent weeks, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) joined Representative Susan Wild (PA-07) and 17 fellow Members of Congress in calling for the defense of the fundamental rights of the Chilean people and encouraging the pursuit of peaceful, democratic dialogue.

“We are alarmed by President Piñera’s statement – made while announcing his decision to declare a state of emergency – that Chile is ‘at war’ against protests in its recent history,” wrote the lawmakers. “…We believe that it is imperative for our country to demonstrate respect for the Chilean people’s sovereignty over their internal affairs. It is precisely because of our belief in the partnership and friendship between the peoples of Chile and the United States – and our governments – that we are asking you to affirm the importance of defending the fundamental right of Chileans to protest and express their concerns peacefully and free from harm.” 

Over the past few weeks, Chile has experienced its largest protests since the end of the brutal military dictatorship that ruled the country under Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990. Driven initially by an increase in public transit fares in Chile’s capital, Santiago, protests have since broadened into a larger movement calling for structural social and economic changes, including a constitutional assembly, higher wages and pensions, affordable health care, and increased access to education. These changes would help to lessen Chile’s income and wealth inequality, which is among the highest in the industrialized world.

“The Chilean government’s increasingly hostile rhetoric and actions towards democratic protests is nothing short of alarming,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), a member of Congressional Hispanic Caucus.  “U.S. foreign policy should be based upon defending fundamental freedoms and values like freedom of peaceful expression. I strongly urge our U.S. Embassy in Chile to consider reaffirming these values, meeting with civil society organizations, and not turn a blind eye to the Chilean government’s use of violent force against its own citizens.”  

Last Friday, the Chilean government announced they would hold a referendum in April on replacing the constitution written in 1980 during the Pinochet dictatorship and defining the ratification process for this new constitution.

“Led by young people, the Chilean people’s calls for a just and equitable future have been heard around the world, including here in the United States,” Wild said. “I am proud to stand with Chileans as they continue to peacefully assemble for justice and equality, including working toward a referendum that can mark an important new chapter for Chile’s democracy. I urge the Chilean government to avoid confrontational rhetoric and actions, reach out to social movements and activists in a spirit of cooperation, and ensure accountability over the multiple, major allegations of human rights violations that we have seen.”

"For too long, Chile has been held up as an example for developing countries to advance economically by extreme free-market measures while avoiding larger issues of sustainability,  democracy and inclusion,” said Brian Finnegan, Global Worker Rights Coordinator with the AFL-CIO. “With recent sustained protests, Chileans are overcoming that legacy in the face of excessive violence by the government and are claiming their rights. With last Friday's announcement that Chile will hold a referendum about replacing a constitution written under the Pinochet dictatorship, Chile has the opportunity to build a sustainable future with social justice. During this transition, the government must protect and respect human rights.”

In addition to Rep. Grijalva and Rep. Raskin, the letter is co-signed by Reps. Ro Khanna (CA-17), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Bobby Rush (IL-01), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Betty McCollum (MN-04), José Serrano (NY-15), Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), and Earl Blumenauer (OR-03).

Text of the full letter is available here.