SANTIAGO – With Easter weekend approaching, people from the Metropolitan Region are expecting to go on “quarantine vacations.” The region’s authorities have announced various measures to try to stop the would-be vacationers, but many outside the Metropolitan Region don’t think these measures go far enough. As a result, mayors of some towns have begun closing roads to block outsiders and they are now finding themselves in the crosshairs of the State Security Law.
Normally, Easter Weekend is one of the major holiday weekends in the country, but the current COVID-19 pandemic has forced big changes this year.
Catholic parishes will be holding Easter mass in empty churches, and even the famous “La Tirana” festival, held in the town of the same name, is canceled and will be replaced by a simple radio broadcast.
COVID-19 Turf Wars, Actual and Metaphorical
These measures are designed to avoid public gatherings and dissuade non-residents, but both continue to be problems. In the town of la Tirana, authorities said that even though they canceled the festival, visitors came anyway, prompting some local leaders to demand a complete shutdown: closing the road into town and expelling everyone that is not a resident.
The Pehuenche people and locals of the town of Lonquimay in the Araucanían Region have decided to simply block the tunnel that leads to their town. They hope their town continues to be one of the few left in the region that is apparently free of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in the Ñuble Region, the mayors of Quirihue and Coelemu, Richard Irribarra and Alejandro Pedreros, respectively, also blocked access to their towns, even preventing medical transport from taking eight patients suspected of having coronavirus to a nearby medical center.
Minister of Health Jaime Mañalich said that due to the State of Catastrophe, mayors don’t have the authority to close roads and that such a decision can only be made by the general in charge of the region.
Minister of Interior Gonzalo Blumel went one step farther and pressed charges against the mayors who blocked their roads, invoking the State Security Law, to show that the Piñera administration has zero tolerance for such actions.
Closing The Metropolitan Region
Last weekend, the police counted over 2,000 people attempting to leave the Metropolitan Region for the beach.
To try to cut off the problem at the root, the governor of the Metropolitan Region, Felipe Guevara, has placed sanitary customs at 10 different entry and exit points around the region. The only way to get through the checkpoints is with a special permit given out only to those whose work is considered essential to the function of society. This primarily means truck drivers, sanitation workers, and emergency responders.
The Metropolitan Region is also implementing fines of up to CLP$250,000 (USD$293) for anyone who doesn’t obey the sanitary customs.
In addition, those who make it out don’t necessarily escape the long arm of the law. Authorities recently surprised travelers from the quarantined municipalities of Las Condes and Vitacura in the town of Rapel and forced them to return to the Metropolitan Region.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.