18-O anniversary marred by violence and vandalism

SANTIAGO – Protests marking the second anniversary of the 2019 social outbreak began as peaceful celebrations, but some later gave way to looting and violence. Chile’s national police deployed about 5,000 officers to contain and disperse protesters, and 450 individuals were arrested. The Interior Minister condemned the vandals and looters, saying, “We are in the presence of criminals, not protesters.”

There were peaceful protests and civil disobedience, such as the disruption of the Metro stations and the convergence of thousands of protesters at Plaza Baquedano (aka Plaza Dignidad) in Santiago to commemorate the second anniversary of 2019’s social outbreak, but these were later overshadowed by violence, looting, and destruction of private property. 

 Authorities in the capital reported that public property was destroyed, fireworks were launched, and businesses were looted. Notably, the Civil Registry in Puente Alto was also seriously damaged and its records cast about like trash. One person was even killed in the early hours of Oct. 19, when a mob tried to destroy a business in Peñalolén.

In the end, the Carabineros, Chile’s national police force, arrested 450 people nationwide, and 279 in the Metropolitan area alone. As the night ended, the police also dispersed the remaining protesters at Plaza Baquedano. Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado said that five police officers were injured during the violence. 

Last night’s events provoked political condemnation and further fueled the polarization in Chile over the meaning of the 18-O protests. 

Delgado said that “We are not in the presence of protesters. We are in the presence of some criminals who use these dates to commit crimes, to loot, to burn, to steal to attack Carabineros, civilians and public and private property,” and that he could not understand why people would resort to violence when Chile is in a “constituent process that is advancing and that just today had a symbolic session in which the necessary commissions advanced to begin the drafting.” He continued by stating Chile “needs to live in peace” and that all presidential candidates must condemn violence because if “you want to defend democracy you have to start by condemning this violence.” 

Undersecretary Juan Francisco Galli also blamed two presidential candidates, Provoste and Gabriel Boric, for the violence. Presidential candidate Sebastian Sichel and Podemos Mas also contended the left were complicit and accomplices in the violence because of their intention “to pardon the violent.” Both Provoste and Boric, however, likewise condemned the violence and destruction.

Debate over pardon

Jaime Bassa, Vice President of the Constitutional Convention, criticized those who described the events yesterday as political violence, asserting that “looting and vandalism do not do the constitutional process or democratic stability any favors,” and that people should be clear that “no one in Chile is using violence as a form of political action.” He continued that it was important to distinguish between yesterday’s violence and the violence that occurred during the dictatorship.

The violence and looting also provoked renewed debate over the “Pardon” bill (the bill to pardon detainees from 2019’s social outbreak), with Delgado reiterating the government’s rejection of the bill because the detainees are “criminals not political prisoners.” Galli echoed these sentiments, demanding an “end to impunity” and asking representatives to withdraw the bill. 

In an interview with La Tercera, Sofia Purran, spokeswoman for the Association of Mothers of Prisoners of the Revolt, defended the Pardon bill by stating that, while her group supports a political solution and condemns violence, “the one that exercises the most violence is the State and the Government,” and that in 2019 people were detained “for throwing Molotov cocktails … and for a lot of things that occur in a demonstration, but the preventive detention was tremendously long, and to this day we have people still without a date for trial.”

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