Those Who Are About To Die Salute You

By Manuel Cabieses Donoso on June 23, 2020

Photo: Bill Hackwell

The great Chilean novelist Carlos Droguett wrote “Matar a los viejos” (To Kill the Old People”) in 1975. This novel, which begins with Pinochet caged and which reviews the crimes of his regime, remained unpublished until 2001.  In that year LOM Ediciones, a Chilean publisher without any ideological bias, over-ruled the veto on Droguett’s work.

However, what is occurring today is the strange reality of a legal sentence being passed on old people due to the pandemic. Knowledgeable executioners- disguised as experts in public health – make this ruling in the press and on television. The death sentence, wrapped in a covering of hypocrisy, is invoking a pagan ritual on the altar of COVID-19.  They are trying to sacrifice the grandmothers and grandfathers, denying them the “last bed” and “last mechanical ventilator.” First they have robbed them of the love of their children, grandchildren, and great-grand-children by means of the torture of quarantine.  And now they seize the scythe of death with a disguise of the lottery for the “last bed.”  To sum up: they are planning to kill the old, invoking motives of general utility.

This pandemic is predicted to be worse than the “Spanish Flu” (which in reality began in Kansas, in the U.S.). Between 1918 and 1920, it killed 40 million people, and the totals are still being argued. In Chile alone it was 40,000 people.

COVID-19 has already claimed close to 500,000 dead in the world. Chile is on the verge of having 8000 victims … perhaps more when the statistical tangle is unraveled.

We are suffering from the effects of our miserable history, in this as in other areas. The pandemic caught us defenseless. The dictatorship has made a shambles of public health and education. These achievements of the people became trophies of profiteering. Luxurious private clinic-hotels like those in Miami were built. Public hospitals and public clinics were turned into dumps for the helpless.  In 1979, with the stroke of a pen, the free-market dictatorship ripped to shreds the Chilean National Health Service created in 1952. The National Health Service was the achievement of years of struggle by the health workers, doctors and administrators, in order to unify and strengthen healthcare services. In 1939 this task was begun by Dr. Salvador Allende Gossens, Minister of Health under President Pedro Aguirre Cerda in the Popular Front government.

The dictatorship trashed public health and the subsequent governments have done little to correct this situation. However, we must recognize the enormous efforts undertaken by the medical and para-medical personnel on the ground in the public clinics and hospitals, who have confronted the pandemic at the risk of their own lives.  By their deeds they have reclaimed the fundamental role of the State in protection of public health.

We, the old, are conscious of the threat of expectation to sacrifice us.  Those over 65 are considered “senior citizens” – a repulsive euphemism for old age.  Here it is: in Chile there are 2,260,000 of us veterans, 11% of the population, which includes some 40,000 immigrants, who are even more screwed than those born here. The majority of the old people who work are doing so in the informal economy, without rights or benefits, and now without work.

Beneath the shadow of the unemployment statistics and the guillotine of the “last bed” and the “last ventilator” – what can we expect as old people? Are we facing a survival isolated and subjected to this reign of terror? In ancient days, they simply killed old people because they were no longer able to work.  Have we come to this place?  This is the day-to-day uncertainty of the old.  There is no doubt that this is the epoch of youth. And we welcome them to it!  Even more so after the pandemic, it’s the job of the young to govern the world. We hope they do it better than we did.

Under the difficulties of a life or death decision, the old, I am sure, would be inclined to give up that last bed and last ventilator to patients with a better chance of survival.  We would do it for our children and grandchildren. Why not for other human beings?  These are the ethics we were taught. We are the contemporaries of men and women who gave their lives for ideals of justice and brotherhood.

Nevertheless, we care for our lives. We want them to be useful until the last breath.  The women and men of “the golden age” have accumulated experiences that may be useful in these times. For example, we know how to construct streams of public opinion that can motivate social changes. That is what we need today, channels that allow and direct the circulation of the dreams and efforts now held back by the dike of the commercial culture.

In the construction, from the ground up, of a model of a new humanistic society, expressed as a new political constitution, old and young will be able to come together without distrust or uncertainties. Then in that society, there will be no place for the idea of killing the old.

Source: Red in Defense of Humanity – Cuba, translation Resumen Latino Americano, North America bureau