SANTIAGO – Chile is living one of its most violent days in decades. After the government declared a State of Emergency on Friday following the violent protests against increasing metro fares, people took to the streets again on Saturday. In five other cities throughout the country, military forces are now in command to maintain order.
What started with groups of students evading to pay for the metro after price increases, has turned into a nationwide protest against inequality and the high cost of living in Chile. After clashes erupted on Friday in the capital of Santiago, President Piñera responded by declaring a State of Emergency, deploying military forces.
On Saturday, it became clear that this announcement only infuriated protesters more. They banged pots and pans, defying riot police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons. Throughout the day, these protests spread to other parts of the country.
In the northern regions, protests were reported in Iquique, Antofagasta, La Serena, and Coquimbo. In Coquimbo, a big Líder supermarket was set on fire and shops were looted. Authorities declared a State of Emergency in La Serena and Coquimbo as protests turned more violent.
In the central regions, a State of Emergency was declared in the cities of Valparaíso and Rancagua. In Valparaíso, the building of newspaper El Mercurio burned. A curfew was imposed later that night and navy troops were deployed after malls were looted. Video footage of soldiers kicking a protester went viral on social media.
Los militares salen a la calle esta noche en Valparaíso y las imágenes hablan por sí solas. Son la clara muestra de la agonía de una democracia que no representa a nadie más que a ellos. La escalada de violencia y represión es COMPLETA responsabilidad de este gobierno autoritario pic.twitter.com/znYAiFdC2h
— Jorge Sharp Fajardo (@JorgeSharp) October 20, 2019
In southern Chile, the cities of Talca, Valdivia, and Gran Concepción also had protests and riots. In the port city of Talcahuano, fishermen put up burning barricades, while in the city of Concepción, the second biggest city in Chile, the whole center was put on lock down after protesters stormed shops, malls, and a court building. Just as in Santiago and Valparaíso, the imposed curfew was defied by protesters here.
In the capital of Santiago, however, where protests started, the heaviest violence was seen. In the commune of San Bernardo, three people died after a supermarket was set on fire. In the commune of Puente Alto, soldiers shot and badly wounded a protester. Toll gates and metro stations were again set on fire.
Cacerolazo: Not All Violence
While the violence throughout the country made headlines in both national and international media, people numerous Chileans throughout the country took to the streets to protest peacefully. The “cacerolazo,” in which protesters bang pots and pans, once again became the soundtrack for these historic demonstrations.
Despite the promises of President Piñera, who announced on national television on Saturday that he would undo the metro price increases and open up a dialogue with various sectors, demonstrations show that the metro fares were only the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The inequality in the country, the high cost of living, the expensive education, pension, and healthcare systems underly the discontent in Chilean society that has brought together people from all socioeconomic levels, ages, sectors, and backgrounds.
This may also explain why the Piñera administration was completely taken by surprise by the massiveness of the Chile protests. Government officials describe the protests as “pure violence, committed by criminals,” showing they have lost touch with their people.
The urge to find solutions grows by the day for the Chilean government. Schools and universities will be closed on Monday; at the Santiago airport, numerous flights have been cancelled; buses, trains, and metro stations are shut down; shops are closed to prevent looting; and with the APEC summit in November and the COP25 summit in December, the government is more eager than ever to restore peace to Chile.
— Chile Today News (@ChileTodayNews) October 20, 2019
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.