Coronavirus in Chile

Protests Reignite in Chile: “Not Against Lockdown, But Against Hunger”

SANTIAGO – In different parts of Santiago and other cities across the country, people protested on Monday night, May 18, as Chileans feel the government does too little to help the vulnerable. The protests started earlier in the day in El Bosque, where participants demonstrated with the slogan “it is not against the quarantine, it is against the hunger”. Mayors say protests could increase if people remain without necessities in the next days.

Clanging pots and pans, burning barricades, and people defying the curfew: once again different parts of Chile erupted with protests against the government. As projected on the emblematic Torre Telefónica, the protests were fueled by the worst of the consequences the crisis has brought to Chile’s most vulnerable communities: hunger.

In the parts of Santiago where the coronavirus has spread most over the last few weeks, the majority of the people are active in the informal sector. A quarantine, such as imposed by the authorities in the entire province for at least one week, means a restriction on all levels: those who can’t leave their house to work can’t provide for their families. The government announced measures to help the informal sector, with monthly financial contributions and food packages, but those who are to receive the support complain they have not seen any of it yet.

In El Bosque, one of the more vulnerable parts of the capital, this led to a protest on Monday, May 18. Dozens of residents put up barricades and demanded attention. Later that day, similar protests followed in Villa Francia and La Pincoya, neighborhoods where protests turned violent and buses were burned. In Lo Prado, La Pintana, Maipú, and Ñuñoa, burning barricades were put up. At 9 p.m., the sounds of the cacerolazos, protests in which people on their balconies clang pots and pans, filled neighborhoods across Chile – a protest against the hunger, as announced on social media.

Mayors Warn Of More Protests Over Hunger

In conversation with Biobio.cl, several mayors of more vulnerable districts in Santiago warned of the grave situations in their districts. Santiago Rebolledo, mayor of La Cisterna, said the announced support from the government might come late as his residents are “are already suffering from hunger.” Just like the mayor of El Bosque, Sadi Melo, where the protests ignited on Monday, Rebolledo referred to the dire situation as “a social epidemic.” The mayor of Alto Hospicio, Patricio Ferreira, warned that if his district continues to lack support from the government, similar demonstrations as seen yesterday could occur.

Politicians from all political sectors have asked the government for understanding for the people who defied the lockdown and curfew yesterday to demand attention to their situations. In an interview with CNN Chile, Economy Minister Lucas Palacios said, “You have to put yourself in their shoes … I have seen how people suffer from poverty, from the desperation of not being able to bring food to their family. You have to understand that when people go out to protest, they do so because they are really having a hard time.”

President of center right-wing Renovación Nacional (RN), Mario Desbordes, said that sending in riot police, as seen during the protests in El Bosque and as demanded by far right-wing politician Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, is no solution. “Pretending to be tough, beating up people who are going hungry, is to me not the solution. This crowd does not want to hurt the government, but is having a hard time. … Are you going to get tough on 300-400 people who came out to protest because they are hungry? I don’t think it’s right.”

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