A Chilean research student studying at the University of St Andrews felt so appalled at the sight of soldiers and tanks on the streets of her country that she wrote a letter for academics to sign calling for solidarity with the Chilean people and for the removal of troops.
Carolina Rocha, of the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University, had hoped that 100 people might add their names but the letter has gone viral and has been signed by nearly 4000 professors, researchers and students from all around the world and reported in the Chilean press. The numbers grow by the minute and the hour.
Carolina, who is researching into when people feel moved to act by the plight of others, said: “When I saw the images of tanks and troops in Chilean cities, something which had not been seen since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship, I first felt helpless. But then I decided to write a letter for people in universities to sign. I didn’t expect much of it, but I felt I had to do something. I was quite amazed by the response. I had no idea so many people in Scotland and around the world would respond.
“Today I heard from my aunt in Chile. She had heard of the letter and was deeply moved. She told me ‘it was lovely to hear that people know about what is happening to us and that they care about it. It tells us we are not alone and it gives us hope’.”
Over the weekend, demonstrations in Chile have forced the government to change direction, to announce the removal of the troops and promise reforms. It would appear that the demands of protestors, echoed and encouraged by international support, have been heard.
Professor Stephen Reicher, who supervises Carolina’s research at St Andrews said: “There is a long tradition of international solidarity in Scotland. During the Spanish civil war, the proportion of Scots joining the International Brigades far outstripped other parts of the UK. Under the Pinochet regime Rolls Royce workers in East Kilbride famously refused to service the engines of Chilean jets and so effectively grounded the country’s air force.
“So it comes as no surprise that Carolina’s wonderful initiative has gained so much support in Scotland and inspired academics around the world. And that support has made a difference, both encouraging the people in Chile and putting further pressure on the Chilean government.”
Carolina Rocha is a doctoral student in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews. Stephen Reicher is Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St Andrews.
The letter, Declaration of Solidarity with Chile from Academics Around the World, and list of signatories can be found online.
An example of the press coverage of the petition in Chile can be also be found online.
Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.Public interest stories