SANTIAGO — On Aug. 23, the national truckers union announced an indefinite national strike beginning Aug. 27. Early this morning, hundreds of truck drivers kept their word and blocked several highways in protest.
Just as announced earlier this week, Chile’s National Confederation of Truck Owners (CNTC) went on strike today and blocked several main transit routes, demanding the government provides more safety for the union members and cargo
After last year’s unrest, many conflicts have resurfaced, as is the case of the Araucanía conflict. In the last few months, protests and road barricades there have been common. The trucking industry has been especially hard hit by the latest violence, as many arson attacks have been directed at freight trucks. In February, a driver died after his truck was set on fire. A more recent incident involved a nine-year-old girl who was shot in an attack. These events ultimately led to the union’s decision to strike and demand more safety.
With land freight being the most commonly-used means of transportation in Chile, at least 95 percent by CNTC accounts, the strike raises fears about supply chain disruptions, which could prove dangerous in times of a pandemic. In a statement, the CNTC apologized in advance for the disruption.
Initially, the president of the Southern Truck Owners Union, José Villagran, told 24 Horas that they would “not transport one single kilogram of sugar, nor a single kilogram of rice,” but the CNTC then had a meeting with Interior Minister Victor Pérez and toned down the initial statement. Instead, they said that they would stage peaceful protests and that the supply chain would not be disrupted.
Read our interview with José Villagran here
Three Major Highways Blocked
During the first day of the strike, truckers blocked three major routes: Highways 68, 78, and 5. Interior Undersecretary Francisco Galli told Biobio that the supply chain has not been compromised and that road closures have been “isolated” and mainly in the regions of Valparaíso, Maule, Bío Bío, La Araucanía, Los Ríos, and Los Lagos.
As for other demonstrations, at about 1:00 p.m. four cargo vehicles arrived at the National Congress in Valparaíso, carrying burned trucks with banners that read “No More Violence,” Biobio reports.
In an interview with Radio Agricultura, the defense minister, Mario Desbordes, said he understands the demands and that people should show empathy for the industry “and show solidarity towards what is happening.” He added that “[t]his impasse should be tackled by Congress, the Executive branch and the Department of Justice.”
Opposition sectors pointed at the fact that policemen were absent and the State Security Law, often applied during strikes and marches, was not invoked. They accused the government of treating the truckers different before the law, while strikes from teachers and health workers in the past were met with severe repression. Footage showing truckers threatening non-striking truckers to leave their vehicles indicated the strike was not as peaceful as announced.
The Truckers’ Demands
The union says the government has not taken any concrete steps to stop terrorism in the southern regions. It requests the immediate dismantling of terrorist organizations. It also wants the government to guarantee drivers’ safety.
As a pressing matter, the union demands that Congress pass a 13-bill package that would help prevent, prosecute, and punish transit-related crimes, and that would increase penalties for truck arson attacks. Villagrán told Chile Today that “I do not care if they pass these laws or make new ones, we just need the rule of law in Chile to be restored.”
Edited by Claudio Moraga.
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant