SANTIAGO – Exactly one week after metro protests turned violent in the city of Santiago, Chileans showed that their dissatisfaction with the system is broadly-based. Over one million people turned out on Friday afternoon at the Plaza Italia in the center of the capital. Peaceful, diverse and emotional: Chile wrote history on a night that highlighted what the protests in the country are about.
Plaza Italia, the place that burned on the 18th of October after a week of metro protests, set the stage for a historic night, a week after Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declared a State of Emergency and ordered army troops to restore peace in the streets of Santiago. According to regional authorities, 1.2 million people were present at the march, in what became the culmination of the biggest political and social crisis the country has experienced since the end of the dictatorship.
— Mundo en Conflicto (@MundoEConflicto) October 25, 2019
Carrying signs, waving flags, clanging pots and pans in what became one of the biggest cacerolazos ever: a march from the people, without any political interests involved, organized by social organizations, unions, grassroot movements, illustrating that the huge mass was only not protesting the current government, but the entire system that has exacerbated Chileans from all classes, backgrounds and ages.
In cities across the country, similar marches were held, bringing the total number of protesters to an estimated 2 million. 2 million people on the streets – in a country of 18 million – demanding change: a new social system, a rewritten constitution, a reduction of the huge inequality gap and especially, more dignity. Chileans showed on Friday night, in Plaza Italia and elsewhere, they are fed up with being treated as machines, whose only role is to produce according to the laws of an inhumane neoliberal regime. ‘No more abuse’ has become the protest’s mantra, “El Derecho de Vivir En Paz”, one of Victor Jara’s more popular songs, has become its anthem.
It's hard to express the emotion of being here tonight to see Chile, a country that has endured so much, come together and sing El Derecho de Vivir en Paz by Víctor Jara – who was tortured and brutally murdered under the dictatorship – which has become the anthem of this movement https://t.co/ZrqhaDo9m7
— John Bartlett (@jwbartlett92) October 25, 2019
The President’s Rhetoric
In a week where the Chilean government and state media desperately tried to frame the nationwide protests as a wave of violence, the protesters themselves showed on Friday night in the very heart of the country’s capital that their fight for reforms is far from over.
The Piñera administration can’t close its eyes to the scale of the marches anymore, as has been illustrated by the rhetoric of the same president: from describing protesters as vandals in the first weekend, to provoking fear and anger with his “we are at war”-comment, from apologizing and announcing small, long-term reforms to declaring “he has changed” after over 5 percent of the Chilean population marched through his capital. The people of Chile have spoken: time for the government to listen.
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.