SANTIAGO — Violent protests across Chile prompted President Piñera to call the events a “war.” Other government officials quickly disagreed with the characterization and called for peaceful talks to resolve the issue. The public also strongly rejected the president’s bellicose rhetoric.
Following a number of days with increasingly violent protests in Santiago, President Piñera spoke to the press on Oct. 20 and expressed his opinion on recent events. “We are at war against a powerful, relentless enemy, who does not respect anything or anyone and who is willing to use violence and criminal action without limits.”
He also called for a united voice amongst political figures, saying that they must “condemn without any doubt, and with total strength, this violence and delinquency.”
President Piñera claimed that the looting and ransacking of supermarkets and other stores was “typical of a criminal organization.”
The president expressed his support of the police and armed forces who have taken to the streets in an attempt to control the protests. Piñera emphasized that they are performing “an exemplary task.”
Chadwick Echoes Piñera
Minister of the Interior, Andrés Chadwick, spoke in support of the president’s comments.
He continued Piñera’s wartime rhetoric and said, “Those vandalistic groups, that all citizens have witnessed, are causing this unfortunate war… We are calling for dialogue and to seek unity against those who cause violence.”
He reported that there were about 350 acts of violence, 110 supermarket lootings, and more than 13 fires in the country the night of Oct. 20.
Chadwick claimed that these incidents were planned to purposefully “damage the citizens in all essential aspects that preserve everyday life.”
Speaking about citizen deaths at the hands of the armed forces, Chadwick added, “We regret all the deaths and I have pointed out that all the incidents that have resulted in injury, that have taken place in this type of situation at the hands of the armed forces, are immediately brought to the attention of the Public Ministry for investigation.”
He emphasized that the police and armed forces “are fulfilling their duty.”
Not an Aggression but an Illness?
General Iturriaga, the man in charge of the state of emergency in the Metropolitan Region, expressed to the press his opinion of Piñera’s comments, “I am a happy man and the truth is that I am not at war with anyone.”
He emphasized that the role of the armed forces is to protect civilians and “to give everyone peace of mind.”
Daniel Jadue, mayor of Recoleta and member of the Chilean Communist Party, called attention to the irony that even General Iturriaga rejected the president’s use of the word “war.”
“No estoy en guerra con Nadie”. Notable que el General de ejercito tenga más prudencia que el Presidente de la Republica #noestamosenguerra
— Daniel Jadue (@danieljadue) October 21, 2019
On Oct. 21, Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a statement concerning the state of emergency.
She urged all Chilean public figures to encourage dialogue and avoid “polarizing words or actions” that could aggravate the situation further.
Bachelet warned that the use of provocative language by officials will only increase “the risk of generating fear in the population.”
She called on the authorities to “ensure that the right of all people to freedom of expression and peaceful manifestation be respected” and to “act in strict accordance with international human rights standards.”
Bachelet acknowledged that violence was caused “both by the authorities and the protesters” and stressed that all incidents of violence, regardless of who committed them, will be “subject to independent, impartial and transparent investigations.”
President of the Senate, Jaime Quintana, tweeted his disapproval of Piñera’s language.
En Chile no hay ninguna guerra. Es un profundo error usar ese lenguaje. Lo que hay son actos delictuales que no han tenido una respuesta eficaz, y un malestar ciudadano acumulado del cual todos tenemos que hacernos cargo.
— Jaime Quintana (@senadorquintana) October 21, 2019
Quintana said that “there is no war in Chile” and argued that using that type of language is a “deep mistake.” As opposed to comparing the protests to a war, Quintana instead asserted that the violence reflects people’s general feeling of unrest and discomfort that must be resolved.
Opinion from the Public
Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), the Mapuche organization which advocates for the rights of the indigenous people with the overall aim of recovering native Mapuche land, released a statement on Oct. 21.
The organization said that it stands alongside the protesters and supports “the just and worthy cry of a people oppressed by neoliberal policies that created a crisis through the greed and ambition of the powerful.”
The statement concluded, “National Mapuche liberation will only be achieved with the liberation of the Chilean people!”
On social media, the reaction to the president’s comments is clear. The hashtags #YoNoEstoyEnGuerra and #NoEstamosEnGuerra were trending on Oct. 21 on Twitter.
Many tweets emphasize the gravity of the social movement in Chile and use the image of an iceberg to call attention to the large number the reasons behind the recent protests.
— CHILE DESPERTÓ (@MagicoQueque) October 21, 2019
Ana Truesdale is a British student, studying Liberal Arts at Durham Univeristy, who is currently interning at Chile Today on her year abroad. She has a strong interest in Latin American culture and journalism and wishes to experience all that Chile has to offer.