1.2 million people took to the streets of Santiago, Chile’s capital, Friday evening, demanding the Government led by right-wing president Sebastián Piñera radical changes regarding the economic system in one of the OECD’s most unequal countries in terms of income.

It became the country’s largest march since the transition to democracy, in 1990, authorities confirmed.

“Today, Chile lives a historic day. The Metropolitan region is the protagonist of a peaceful march of around one million people who represent the dream of a new Chile, without distinction. More dialogue and peaceful marches are what our country requires”, governor Karla Rubilar posted on her official Twitter account before the last official figure was released.

A week ago, massive protests wracked the city of roughly 5.6 million people and left US$300 million worth of damages in the Metro network after a hike in the rush hour fare enraged high school students.

Public unrest in the capital worsened to the point that protestors attacked banks, retail stores and other business. That night, Santiago also saw extensive looting, violent clashes with the police and arson attacks on supermarkets and warehouses.

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Piñera declared a State of Emergency on Saturday and left the Armed Forces in charge of security, but Chile’s regions followed suit, so the Government had to issue decrees in other areas, imposing curfews that did not really stop people from protesting.

Until Friday, 19 people have died in what many consider to be the most serious crisis since the transition to democracy, after a 17-year dictatorship.

What started with the Metro increase later developed into a general discontent… pretty much about everything in the country.

Income inequality, the gap between the rich and poor, high Congress salaries (the highest in the OECD), miserable pensions managed by private companies, problems with healthcare, unmet demands in the education field, corruption and multimillion-dollar embezzlement scandals in public organisms, among many other issues, seem to have taken its toll on Chileans.

Piñera has been critised for his slow reaction to the crisis. That Friday night, for example, he attended one of his grandchildren’s birthday party at a pizza restaurant in Vitacura, Chile’s richest neighborhood, but on Tuesday he addressed the Nation with a ten-point plan that seeks to “improve” Chileans’ lives.

Nevertheless, his proposal has been heavily rejected. Many believe it is more of “the same” his and previous administrations have offered.

His judgement has also been under fierce scrutiny after his decision to delegate the security in the streets to the Army, along with the other Armed Forces and special branches of the Uniformed Armed Police.

Accusations of Human Rights violations even made former Chile president and current UN Human Rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, to send a three-member team to the country amid the unrest, to analyse and examine allegations of police brutality.

Pictures and videos

Samir Viveros | Agencia UNO
Samir Viveros | Agencia UNO
Samir Viveros | Agencia UNO
Samir Viveros | Agencia UNO