In Chile, millions of people are taking to the streets to demonstrate against neoliberal President Piñera. El Pueblo Unido – the song that accompanies the protests is called The United People in English. It is one of the most important protest songs in the world. We took a closer look at the history and meaning of the song.
Read this article in German here.
The Chilean protest song is an important part of the worldwide protest culture. It stands for a life free of oppression and in defiance of fascism and neoliberalism. The struggle of the Chilean people stands here symbolically for the struggle of all oppressed people of this world. With the current protests against the neoliberal president of Chile, the song can be heard again in all cities of the country.
THE SONG AND ITS ORIGINS
Although, the song comes from Chile, the origin of the chorus, El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido, comes from another Latin American country. In the 1930s and 1940s, the socialist politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán fought for a just and equal Colombia. He was considered a gifted speaker. The legendary phrase is inspired by one of his speeches.
However, Eliécer Gaitán was murdered for his political commitment. Two former CIA agents later testified that the US secret service was behind the assassination. The murder of him caused an unrest, which later led to a long and bloody civil war.
EL PUEBLO UNIDO IN CHILE
In Chile, the phrase became famous during the reign of socialist president Salvador Allende and was often chanted at rallies. The composer of the song’s music, Sergio Ortega Alvarado, recalls that on his way home he met a boy in the streets of the Chilean capital Santiago de Chile who shouted the slogan. He gave him the inspiration for his music.
The Chilean folk band Quilapayún wrote the text to the music of El Pueblo Unido. The band recorded the song for the first time live at a huge concert in the streets of Santiago de Chile. Only three months later, on September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected President Salvador Allende and established an extremely violent military dictatorship. At that time, Quilapayún were on tour in Europe. They were not able to return to Chile until 1988.
DICTATORSHIP IN CHILE
Pinochet established a brutal military dictatorship in Chile. Thousands of opponents of the regime were arrested, tortured and murdered. Concentration camps and secret prisons were established in the capital Santiago, as well as in other cities of the country. More than a million opposition members fled Chile to escape the military junta.
Meanwhile, Pinochet reversed all the socio-political reforms that Allende had carried out against the rampant social inequality. Far-reaching privatizations, the abandonment of price controls and massive cuts in social spending occurred. Chile became a laboratory for neoliberal economic policy.
RESISTANCE DESPITE ALL ODDS
Nevertheless, resistance to the military dictatorship was not completely broken. Many opposition members went underground or founded organizations abroad to resist the military dictatorship. El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido gave them hope for a better Chile during these dark times. Quilapayún and other Chilean bands in exile played the protest anthem all over the world and called for solidarity with the Chilean population. Several foreign musicians followed the call and translated the song into their own languages.
The US-American composer Frederic Rzewski composed a piano piece that interprets various variations of El Pueblo Unido.
EL PUEBLO UNIDO TODAY
Since this October, the protest song has an additional meaning. Earlier this month, student organizations called on students not to buy a ticket on the Santiago de Chile subway, but to fare dodge. The reason: the neoliberal president Piñera announced that he would raise the prices for public transport. What began as student protests against fare increases quickly turned into a nationwide uprising against the neoliberal economic order that has dominated the country since the military dictatorship.
El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido is also the anthem of this resistance. On October 25, more than 1.2 million people took to the streets of the Chilean capital. They demand the resignation of President Piñera and the end of neoliberalism in Chile. The anthem has accompanied them during the time of Pinochet, now it gives the protesters strength to keep on fighting for a more just world.
Along with Quilapayún, Inti Illimani are one of the most important bands of the Chilean resistance.
Lyrics in English
An English version of El Pueblo Unido.
Lyrics in Spanish