SANTIAGO — Chile is preparing for a big anniversary. On Oct. 18 massive protests and rallies are expected to commemorate the social outbreak that started one year ago. Citizens and authorities are anxiously looking at what’s in store.
What started as a protest against a rise in subway fares ended up being one of the most critical crises Chile has experienced in the past century. But a year after the social outbreak began, uncertainty and expectations have arisen among Chileans about the outbreak’s first anniversary, on Oct. 18.
First Anniversary Preparations
Amid the violent months the country experienced from Oct. 18 last year, and the Covid-19 disruption that followed, government authorities have urged the public to protest peacefully and respect the social distancing rules to avoid destruction and contagion.
The Health Ministry prepared a three-point plan for this weekend.
- Reinforcement of emergency rooms. Undersecretary of Healthcare Networks Arturo Zúñiga said the aim is to “ensure there is enough staff to provide care in the event of people being injured.”
- Preventive protocols to safeguard health workers, patients, and health infrastructure. “These protocols mandate, for example, that the area surrounding a hospital is cleared of objects that could be used as projectiles or to damage infrastructure, hurt staff or patients.”
- Protocols that ensure transparency and data accessibility, for different institutions, such as the human rights institute (INDH).
Zúñiga said the government will adopt these measures starting 8 a.m. on Oct. 16. “We designated people for all 29 health services. That way, we will be able to register each and every one of the patients that go to the emergency room of a hospital, regardless of the cause.”
President Sebastián Piñera will give a speech on the progress over the past year. Government spokesperson Jaime Bellolio told BioBío Radio that he will “probably address the nation before the 18th” and mention security measures and the protection of human rights.
The Unidad Constituyente political conglomerate, comprising the Socialist Party, the Party for Democracy, the Christian Democrats, and others, urged the population to commemorate the date “with protests, casseroles, bicycle marches, and cultural activities. Always keeping the distance that the pandemic demands.”
Last year, Plaza Italia (now known as “Plaza Dignidad” or “Dignity Square”) in the center of Santiago, turned into an iconic location amid the protests. Shop owners in the area were heavily affected by the protests. Many had to close because of the lootings and destruction. They have now organized to shut down all shops over the weekend, get permanent surveillance, and coordinate via messenger services.
Government’s Handling Could Define Referendum Atmosphere
Just a week after the commemoration of the social outbreak, Chileans will vote on a referendum to decide if the Constitution (imposed during Pinochet’s dictatorship) should be rewritten.
According to a study by Chile 21 Foundation, the way the government and special forces handle this weekend’s protests could define the atmosphere for the coming weeks.
The organization said that condemning violence may not be sufficient. “Disproportionate police action in the restoration of public order will generate an unstoppable escalation of violence. This is why the condemnation of violence must go hand in hand with a demand that police work be impeccable.”
Chile 21’s executive director said the stability of the government, the Carabineros as an institution, and the referendum are at stake. “There is no room for mistakes.”