Chile crisis: 7 dead, curfew imposed in 14 cities as Government tries to face riots, looting, arson
por Emilio Lara
Until this Sunday night, according to official figures delivered by the Home secretary, Andrés Chadwick, seven people have died amid the riots and protests that have thrown Chile into absolute chaos as of Friday, following five days of public unrest after the Santiago Metro experienced an increase in its rush hour fare.
Only Friday night left 308 people arrested, 156 policemen hurt and 80 Metro stations damaged.
In this way, conservative president Sebastián Piñera declared State of Emergency in Greater Santiago on Friday night, the country’s capital, measure that he extended to Concepción and Valparaíso, among others, a day later.
So far, the Armed Forces, in charge of security under this mechanism, have imposed curfews in fourteen cities from north to south: Antofagasta, La Serena, Coquimbo, Valparaíso, Greater Santiago, Rancagua, Talca, Chillán, Chillán Viejo, Greater Concepción, Temuco, Padre Las Casas, Valdivia and Punta Arenas.
However, despite military presence in the streets, fires, looting and arson continue in most areas. Supermarkets, car dealerships, gas stations, drug stores and warehouses are the main target across the entire territory.
On Saturday night, Piñera announced that he would send a bill to Congress in order to freeze the fare hike in the Santiago Metro. The Executive did not include the regions in its US$4.2 million project.
Even though sessions are never held at the weekend, the House gathered this Sunday at 5pm to discuss the Government’s proposal.
The meeting had to be stopped almost immediately due to heated arguments sparked by members from the opposition, who asked for explanations given that the House established that they would only discuss Piñera’s bill and not the State of Emergency, as it was suggested on Saturday.
Finally, the House passed the bill around 8pm this Sunday. Hence, the Senate is set to hold a session to discuss the same matter on Monday at 4pm.
La Moneda’s toll did not include the death of an Ecuadorian citizen in La Serena, who was shot dead this Sunday evening by troops outside a shopping center.
Chile in shambles
What started as peaceful calls by high school students to evade paying the Metro fare in Santiago evolved into a nightmare that the Government never dreamed of.
For months, Piñera has suffered from low approval ratings and high disapproval figures, but his right-wing administration, heavily backed by businessmen and corporate leaders, has managed to soldier on.
Notwithstanding, corruption scandals, low pensions, a national healthcare crisis, a tax reform accused of helping the very rich, multimillion-dollar embezzlement cases in public entities and even controversies surrounding Piñera himself seem to have taken its toll on the public.
Some have criticised that the head of State evaded property taxes on a lake house in the south of Chile for 30 years and the fact that he was only given a US$7 thousand fine.
His cabinet also made news in recent weeks with comments that were openly condemned.
In early october, the Finance minister, Felipe Larraín, highlighted a fall in the price of flowers for those romantics interested in giving them and the Transport minister, Juan Andrés Fontaine, affirmed that those in Santiago willing to wake up earlier would be benefited by lower Metro fares.
The transport system in the country’s capital was suspended during the entire weekend, but some bus lines are set to operate on Monday.
Most of the underground operations were cancelled indefinitely, but Line 1 will partially operate as of Monday, between stations Pajaritos to Los Domínicos from 7am to 8pm, confirmed the Transport secretary, Gloria Hutt.
From the presidential palace, at 9.20pm, Chadwick stated that in Santiago, this Sunday, over 40 buildings were looted, with over 70 cases of extreme violence registered and 152 arrests.
He also informed that, between the Uniformed Armed Police and the Armed Forces, 10.500 troops have been deployed.
Chadwick described those actions as “condemnable” and “loathsome”. Undeniably, they have parted from the demands supported by most of the country. That is why, according to the head of Chile’s security, they deserve “severe punishment”.
“Please, let’s not fool ourselves, we are facing a surge in violence and vandalism that, without a doubt, has been organised to cause serious harm to our country and to the lives of every Chilean”, he said.
After that, he reminded that Piñera met this Sunday with the heads of the other branches of the State.
In front of the press, the president of the Supreme Court, Haroldo Brito; of the House, Iván Flores; and of the Senate, Jaime Quintana, called for a truce and a national agreement to solve the needs of the public democratically.
It is not clear when the crisis will be solved. What is clear is that the “oasis” Chile was a couple of weeks ago is long gone.
On 8 October, asked about the crisis in other countries of the region, such as Ecuador, Piñera said: “in this Latin America, Chile is a true oasis, stable democracy, growing economy”.
“Look at what happens in Argentina and Paraguay, recession, Mexico and Brazil, stagnated, Bolivia and Perú, political crisis, Colombia and FARC’s resurgence”, he added.
“I ask my fellow Chileans to look after our country. Let’s not fight among ourselves. We have a marvellous Nation”, he affirmed.