02 / 1993
QUERCUM (Centro de Desarrollo y Estudios Jurídicos = Development and Legal Studies Centre), Santiago, Chile, is an association consisting of lawyers, popular educators and law students who carry out popular legal work in urban areas. Its work is based on that of people’s organisations in order to set up a collective defence of the people and to develop their critical capacity. QUERCUM is part of the Latin American alternative legal services movement created in the context of the early 1980s as a reaction against repressive governments.
Jean DESIGNE: Faced with the new political context in Chile, can we say that there has been a change in QUERCUM’s strategy from one of conflict to one of negotiation and dialogue?
Manuel JACQUES: Our basic strategy is still the same as always. But sometimes it’s necessary to rely on negotiation. Through dialogue we can give an organisational force to scattered groups and actions. New strategies have to be devised and discussed with the community in order to find permanent solutions to their problems.
J.D.: Doesn’t avoiding conflict lead to the neutralisation of the problem?
M.J.: In the specific case of Chile, our main problem is the direct election of local authorities. If the will of the community is sufficently organised, local representatives should do something to comply with their wishes. When the community is organised sector by sector with permanent cohesion, it becomes the real local power and can govern itself. But the short, medium and long term strategies must be very clear in order not to get too carried away by activism.
J.D.: How can disadvantaged populations become involved in this type of community organisation?
M.J.: I will reply by quoting an example: in Peñaloén, where we have a legal service centre, 700 people have invaded plot of land. What is the difference between the strategy of self-defence through attack, and that of the accumulation of power? The first means that there is occupation then police repression and the community has only a very small chance of succeeding. The second means organising the community beforehand, thereby giving them every chances of success. Starting with a government subvention for the improvement of the access to housing for people who have a building society account, the community committee arranged for everyone to have an account, proving the will of the people to save money and that they were responsible and earnest. The committee addressed the Housing Ministry twice asking for a subvention for all the people they represent, a step which resulted in nothing. Therfore after that they occupied the land and asked for our support. The first thing was to legitimise the occupation and to use the informal legality as a weapon in the battle to legalise the occupation. With the help of lawyers, campaigns for signatures and back-up committees, we were able to prepare a contract for the purchase of the land. Faced with the seriousness of our action, all repression became impossible. When the file is ready, that will be the moment to very quickly build houses during the night in order to make the situation even more irreversible. During the negotiations we will only be able to help the people who have been fighting since the beginning and not any late-comers. For the latter another occupation will be organised later on. This strategy works because it is based on concrete facts. We answer with a strategy of dialogue, which depends on the strategy of conflict. This doesn’t mean abandoning conflict but reinforcing its strength, making the goal easier to obtain.
Today our situation is more complicated than during the dictatorship. Before we were always "against". Now we have to try and profit from the instruments of the system, to convert them to our objectives. This type of support is one of the elements which legitimises QUERCUM for the people. On the other hand the government recognises our legitimacy as well. It isn’t voluntary activism any more but an elaborated proposition, which no longer justifies conflict for the sake of conflict.
Original card in French in Dph data base. The ’title/sub-title’ field corresponds to the ’translated title’ field in the French card.
This interview was held on the 19th October 1992. The remarks were taken down by Ana Larrègle, Juristes-Solidarités.
Interview with JACQUES, Manuel