Chile Declares National Emergency as Protests Paralyze Capital

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Currents News Staff

One of Latin America’s largest cities, Santiago, Chile, is paralyzed.  At least 11 people have been found dead and hundreds more have been arrested. The city has seen millions of dollars in damage since October 18. 

Late October 20, country’s president, Sebastián Piñera, didn’t mince words.

“We are at war with a powerful enemy, relentless, that does not respect anyone or anything,” he said. 

The president’s rhetoric could spur further violence in protests that began over a transit fare hike. Violent clashes between police and protesters have now gone on for days.

Looting in the city has been rampant as massive buildings and train stations have been set on fire. For the first time since a military dictatorship ended in 1990, the country’s own military has been deployed on Santiago’s streets. 

A national emergency has been declared as some politicians call for calm.

“We are trying to bring back peace to the people. We’ve received your message, but in order to carry it out we need to dialogue in peace,” said Karla Rubilar, Santiago’s mayor.

President Piñera first announced the hike would be suspended on October 19. it did little, if anything, to calm things down. 

For protesters, the demonstrations and frustration are about much more than a pricier metro ticket, described as “years of repression, they are years of living in misery, they are years of government-imposed measures at the expense of the people.”

Though Chile is Latina America’s wealthiest country, it also has one of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world. People are frustrated by what they call a lack of economic reform on a number of topics including pensions, healthcare and public education.

There’s also concern about government overreach, as on October 20 authorities imposed a curfew in the city. Some 10,000 police and armed soldiers were deployed.

This comes just weeks before the APEC summit is set to being in Santiago, a highly anticipated event for many reasons, not the least of which being that President Trump and President Xi of China could sign a trade deal on the event’s sidelines. 

Should these protests continue, senior government leadership might choose to skip the summit altogether, a blow to the Chilean government’s hope to show off a modern, efficient capital city. Now, it’s one racked with unrest.