Social Crisis

Protests, Lootings and Cacerolazos in Santiago Ahead of Decisive Vote

SANTIAGO – There’s a lot at stake in the vote for the pension bill today, and this has become clear once again after a night full of unrest in the Chilean capital. Around the city, cacerolazos were followed by protests, lootings of supermarkets and attacks on police stations. Dozens of people were arrested.

In at least 10 districts of Santiago, protests occurred on Tuesday night ahead of the vote in the Chilean Lower House on the pension bill. At 9PM, cacerolazos started, with people clanging pots and pans in support of a bill that would allow them to withdraw 10 percent from their privately managed pension funds.

Earlier that day, President Sebastián Piñera had tried to ease tensions by presenting another support plan for the country’s middle class, offering, among other things, a direct cash bonus of CLP$500,000 (US$634). But the social crisis in the background, economic problems ahead and years of frustrations about an unequal pension system have turned the debate on the withdrawal once again into an indictment of the neoliberal system that, according to protesters, is the reason behind all socioeconomic problems in Chile.

In cities, such as Valparaíso, caceralazos were held too.

With the echoes of the cacerolazos in the background, people took to the streets on Tuesday night defying the curfew. Barricades were set up, a public transport bus was set on fire, several police stations were attacked, and lootings were reported: a déjà vu of the social protests that started in October 2019.

The unrest underlines the dilemma for the Piñera administration. If the pension bill gets approved tonight, the governing coalition, which campaigned so hard against it, will be weaker than ever. If the bill gets rejected, it might be a start of a new wave of nationwide protests. This time it won’t be about 30 pesos, but about 10 percent. Different sparks lighting the same fire.

Protests did not only take place in the lower-income neighborhoods, where the effects of the coronavirus crisis are felt the hardest. In Las Condes, Ñuñoa and Providencia barricades also impeded the little traffic that was still allowed during the quarantine. At least five police stations, in Huechuraba, Cerro Navia, Estación Central, Maipú and Peñalolén were attacked simultaneously by mobs throwing stones, suggesting an orchestrated assault.

In Conchalí, an Alvi and a Unimarc supermarket were looted. In Estación Central, Quilicura, Huechuraba and Quinta Normal, supermarkets and gasoline stations were attacked. According to a police report, 13 lootings were registered, and 54 people were arrested in the capital. Chilean police forces have said they are prepared for another night of violence if the pension bill is rejected.

In response to the violence, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel called the protests “an attempt to intimidate and alter our democratic process.” He added that “for several hours, organized groups were adulterating public order in the city, amidst disturbances that affected the tranquility, public order and security of all the residents of the Metropolitan region. Nothing justifies the violence we saw last night in the city.”

Also read:

Opposition Seeks to Nationalize Chilean Pension System

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