Social Crisis

#ChileDesperto: Santiago Under Curfew After Another Day of Turmoil

SANTIAGO – President Sebastián Piñera declared a State of Emergency for Greater Santiago in the early hours of Oct. 19, after protests against the Metro price hike and economic inequality turned violent and went far beyond anything local police had the ability to control. During the protests, Metro stations were shut down, vandalized, and burned, other structures were attacked and burned, several people were hurt, and, ultimately, special forces were called in and fanned out across downtown. On Saturday, protesters defied the State of Emergency and took to the streets despite the presence of armed forces.

In the fifth day of protests against the systemic inequality in Chile, triggered by a recent rise in the price of Metro tickets, Chile’s president Sebastián Piñera declared a State of Emergency in 37 communes in the Metropolitan Region, especially the Santiago, Maipo, and Chacabuco provinces, and San Bernardo and Puente Alto communes. The decision was made in the early hours of Oct. 19, after 19 Metro stations were destroyed and more than 100 policemen were hurt.

After clashes erupted again on Saturday in neighborhoods throughout the city, with protesters carrying out cacelorazos, hitting pots and pans. Riot police responded launching tear gas, provoking violent responses from protesters. Currently, all Metro lines are closed, but even so more metro stations were set on fire on Saturday, as well as trains and buses.

Photo Series: Santiago Wakes Up After a Night of Historic Violence

Protests Throughout Chile

The protests have spread throughout the country, with riots reported in Chile’s second city Concepción. Harbor workers in the nearby towns of Talcahuano, Tomé, Penco, and Dichato burned barricades.

In La Serena, Talca, Valdivia, Valparaíso, Rancagua, Curico, Temuco and Iquique protests similar to the ones in Santiago were reported.

Nowhere has the violence been so massive as in Santiago though. Despite the presence of military forces, the city burned even more than the night before, causing General Javier Iturriaga del Campo, heading the State of Emergency operations, to impose a curfew in large parts of the capital, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Metro Protests

The protests started as massive and repeat Metro fare evasions—a strong rejection of the recent Metro price increases. 

These protests, however, quickly escalated to a generalized rejection of an economic system that many Chileans feel is pressing them from all sides—from low salaries and meager retirement pay to high costs for consumer goods and medical care, to exorbitant costs for education.

The Latest: Chile Struck by Nationwide Protests

What is a State of Emergency?

A State of Emergency is a mechanism of action specified in the Chilean Constitution’s Law 18.415 and activated in extraordinary circumstances. 

In a State of Emergency, the president can alter or suspend the normal application of civil rights and freedoms, for the sake of preservation of peace and security in the zone. The measures can include restrictions on freedom of movement (like the imposition of curfews) and the right to gather. 

The president can only declare a State of Emergency if the current situation in the subject zone endangers the safety of the Nation; and, when the president declares a State of Emergency, it is limited to 15 days. After that, Congressional approval is necessary for any extensions.

During a State of Emergency, the president has the power to pass authority to a National Defense representative he finds suitable. In this case, Piñera put General Javier Iturriaga in charge of the strategies to control the current situation.

In the T13 article, Piñera said that during the next few days, the government would initiate a dialogue and would make every effort “to solve the situation of our compatriots, who have been affected by the rise of the Metro tickets price.”

Bidding for Santiago’s metro line 7 starts

The Why’s of Chilean Dissatisfaction

Most recently, citizens initially complained when Metro ticket prices rose to CLP$830 (USD$1.17), or about CLP$34,000 (USD$48) per month for transportation, a large sum given the many Chileans who earn minimum wage, CLP$301,000 (USD$424).

The Metro price-rise, however, was simply the last straw. As a result, the protests over the fares quickly became more generalized complaints about economic conditions—protests which students spearheaded for almost a week leading up to last night’s violence that is continuing today and spreading to other cities with no end in sight.

One student, from the National Institute, who participated in the initial evasion movements, explained to The Clinic how these protests escalated to violence. “We need to understand the origin of the violence that our friends have committed, which has nothing to do with the systemic violence we have been submitted to, for years. There have been no answers from anyone [in the past]. No marches or other manifestations have given us a satisfactory answer [before],” Jessica says.

In short, many are fed up and it is no longer about Metro fares.

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