2019–2021 Chilean protests
|Chilean protests (2019)|
|Date||14 October 2019 – March 18 2020|
|Methods||Protests, fare evasion, civil disobedience, rioting, looting|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|Death(s)||36 (as of February 2020)|
|Detained||28,000 (as of February 2020)|
The 2019 Chilean protests, known in Chile as the Estallido Social (lit. social outburst), are a series of massive demonstrations and severe riots originated in Santiago and spread to all regions of Chile, with a greater impact in the main cities, such as Greater Valparaíso, Greater Concepción, Greater La Serena, Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, Rancagua, Chillán, Temuco, Valdivia, Osorno, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, developed mainly between October 2019 and March 2020. Civil protests took place throughout Chile in response to a raise in the Santiago Metro's subway fare, the increased corruption, cost of living, privatisation and inequality prevalent in the country.
The protests began in Chile's capital, Santiago, as a coordinated fare evasion campaign by secondary school students which led to spontaneous takeovers of the city's main train stations and open confrontations with the Carabineros de Chile (the national police force). On 18 October, the situation escalated as a group of people began vandalizing city's infrastructure; seizing, vandalizing, and burning down many stations of the Santiago Metro network and disabling them with extensive infrastructure damage, and for a time causing the cessation of the network in its entirety. 81 stations have sustained major damage, including 17 burned down. On the same day, President of Chile Sebastián Piñera announced a state of emergency, authorizing the deployment of Chilean Army forces across the main regions to enforce order and prevent the destruction of public property, and invoked before the courts the Ley de Seguridad del Estado ("State Security Law") against dozens of detainees. A curfew was declared on 19 October in the Greater Santiago area.
In the following days, protests and riots expanded to other Chilean cities, including Concepción, San Antonio and Valparaíso. The state of emergency was extended to the Concepción Province, all Valparaíso Region (except Easter Island and Juan Fernández Archipelago) and the cities of Antofagasta, Coquimbo, Iquique, La Serena, Rancagua, Valdivia, Osorno, and Puerto Montt. The protests have been considered the "worst civil unrest" having occurred in Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship due to the scale of damage to public infrastructure, the number of protesters, and the measures taken by the government. Widespread looting has occurred at shops and businesses.
On 25 October 2019, over 1,2 million people took to the streets of Santiago to protest against social inequality, demanding President Piñera's resignation, in what was called as The biggest march of Chile. As of 28 December 2019, 29 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured and 2,840 have been arrested. Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters by security forces, including eye mutilation, torture, sexual abuse and sexual assault. On 28 October 2019, President Piñera changed eight ministries of his cabinet in response to the unrest, dismissing his Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick.
On 15 November 2019, Chile's National Congress signed an agreement to hold a national referendum that would rewrite the constitution if it were to be approved. The referendum was rescheduled from April to October 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Chile. On 25 October 2020, Chileans voted 78.28 per cent in favor of a new constitution, while 21.72 per cent rejected the change. Voter turnout was 51 per cent. On May the 16th 2021, the election of the 155 Chileans who will form the convention which will draft the new constitution was voted.
The pandemic provoked a significant decreased in the manifestation's intensity, with social distancing measures and eventual government-imposed lockdowns in place. An estimated 3.5 billion dollars and 300 thousand jobs, have been lost due to destruction and damage of public and private infrastructure, including the Santiago Metro, as a result of the protests and vandalism carried out mainly between October and November 2019. As of March 2021, the demonstrations have continued to focus every Friday almost exclusively around Plaza Baquedano, where between 100 to 500 people confront the police and vandalize the surroundings. This continuation has been defined by the government as "acts of crime that do not respond to a demonstration or social demand."
The price of public transport in Greater Santiago is determined by the Panel of Public Transport Experts (Spanish: Panel de Expertos del Transporte Público), which uses an automatic calculation formula to adjust fares on a monthly basis. The Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications is advised by the panel and must be notified of any price changes.
On 1 October 2019, the Panel determined the quarterly adjustment of fares for the public transport system of the Province of Santiago and the communes of San Bernardo and Puente Alto. They decided that a fare hike of 10 Chilean pesos for buses and 30 pesos for the Santiago Metro and Metrotrén at peak hours (a rise of about 4%), as well as a fare decrease of 30 pesos at off-peak hours, was necessary. The increase was justified by the panel due to increase of the rate index, which is subject to variations in the value of fuel, the value of the US dollar, the value of the euro, the cost of labor, and the consumer price index among other variables, such that the costs to the subway have risen. The fare change was scheduled to take effect from 6 October.
Some specialists, such as former Minister Paola Tapia, have indicated that there are other factors that explain the rise. Among these factors would be the purchase without tender of a new fleet of electric buses for the Metropolitan Mobility Network and the suspension of the new tender for bus services, both decisions made by the administration of Minister Gloria Hutt.
In addition, there is criticism that rail transit fares in Santiago are the second highest in Latin America (only surpassed by São Paulo). In relative terms, the average monthly cost per person for the city's public transport is equivalent to 13.8% of the minimum wage, well above other cities such as Buenos Aires, Mexico City or Lima, where it does not exceed 10%.
Inequality and cost of living
According to Jose Miguel Ahumada, a political economist and associate professor at the University of Chile, the country is "one of the most unequal countries in Latin America". As described by The Washington Post, while the last three decades of neoliberal policies made Chile "one of South America’s wealthiest countries, with inflation under control and easy access to credit", they also "created stark economic disparities and strapped many Chileans into debt". The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) states, that 1% of the population in Chile controls 26.5% of the country's wealth, while 50% of low-income households access 2.1%. Additionally, according to National Statistics Institute of Chile, while the minimum wage in Chile is 301,000 pesos, half of the workers in that country receive a salary equal to or less than 400,000 pesos.
Protesters interviewed by Reuters said they were struggling to make ends meet because of the high costs of part-privatized education and health systems, rents and utilities, and a privatized pension system has been widely rejected by Chileans because of its low and often delayed payouts.
October 2019 protests
The protests began on Monday, 7 October, as secondary-school students began an orchestrated campaign of fare dodging on the Santiago Metro. In response, the Metro authority began controlling access to several stations. Under the slogan ¡Evade! ("evade"), the fare-dodging campaign continued and grew over the remainder of that week and into the next. On Monday, 14 October, several stations on Line 5 were closed in the afternoon after violent incidents were reported. On 15 October, a major clash between students and police occurred at Santa Ana station and four arrests were made; in the afternoon, a group of protesters kicked down a metal gate at Plaza de Armas station in downtown Santiago, and stations on Lines 1, 3 and 5 were closed to passengers as security was stepped up. Confrontations continued and expanded over the following days, with turnstiles and ticket machines being destroyed at San Joaquín station on 17 October and four stations closed in the evening. At that time, 133 arrests had been made and damage to Metro infrastructure was estimated at up to 500 million pesos (US$700,000).
On Friday, 18 October, the situation escalated as protests unfolded in downtown Santiago. Barricades were built, to which the police responded with water cannon and tear gas. The entire Metro system was closed after attacks were reported at nearly all its 164 stations, forcing many passengers to walk home. The headquarters building of electricity company Enel Generación Chile was damaged in a fire which affected its emergency exit stairwell.
A major event that galvanized the day's movement was related to Sebastián Piñera himself. At approximately 21:00 hours on 18 October, while riots and open battles swept the capital, the President was away from La Moneda Palace, busy attending the birthday of one of his grandchildren. The celebration took place at a restaurant named Romaría, an expensive pizza parlour in the northern district of Vitacura, one of Santiago's wealthiest. An unidentified customer who happened to be inside took photographs and posted them anonymously on Twitter, showing a relaxed Piñera eating inside and his private escort convoy sitting outside the building. Piñera later addressed the nation and announced a 15-day state of emergency in the capital, allowing the armed forces to patrol the city alongside the Carabineros, Chile's militarized national police force.
The violence continued on 19 October and the Metro remained closed to passengers. Shops were looted, buses were set alight and clashes occurred between demonstrators and the security forces. A curfew was imposed between 22:00 and 07:00 hours. As rioting spread to other parts of the country, states of emergency were declared in the Valparaíso Region and Concepción Province. In an address to the nation in the evening, President Piñera announced the cancellation of the fare increase and the establishment of a dialogue panel, with representatives from across society, to discuss the underlying causes behind the unrest.
On 20 October, many supermarkets, shopping malls and cinemas remained closed as the protests continued. Curfews were imposed for that night in the Santiago Metropolitan Region, and the regions of Valparaíso, Biobío (including the regional capital, Concepción), and Coquimbo; as the curfew began in Santiago, many protesters remained on the street.
President Piñera again addressed the nation on the evening of 20 October. In his remarks, he said the country was "at war with a powerful and implacable enemy" and announced that the state of emergency, already in effect in the Metropolitan Region and the regions of Valparaíso, Biobío, Coquimbo and O’Higgins, would be extended to the regions of Antofagasta, Maule, Los Ríos, and Magallanes. Some opposition politicians described his rhetoric as "irresponsible", while a Latin America editor for BBC News Online expressed concern about the impact his words would have on the protesters and on the chances for meaningful dialogue. Hours shortly after the President's speech, chief of national defense Javier Iturriaga del Campo spoke against this declaration, asserting that he was "content" and "not at war with anyone".
Some incidents of unrest were reported on 21 October in Santiago, Concepción, and other cities. The Santiago Metro remained closed, except for a portion of Line 1, as did all the nation's universities and institutes of higher education. The intendant of the Metropolitan Region announced that schools would remain closed on 22 October in 48 of the region's communes. Michelle Bachelet, a former President of Chile now serving as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a call for open, sincere and immediate dialogue and warned that "the use of inflammatory rhetoric will only serve to further aggravate the situation".
On 27 October, President Piñera requested all of his cabinet ministers to resign; however, he accepted 8 resignations, including the Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick. Three days later, Piñera withdrew Chile from hosting the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting scheduled for November and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December.
According to Bloomberg, the protests are the worst civil unrest having occurred in Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship due to of the scale of damage to public infrastructure, the number of protesters, and the measures taken by the government.
On 8 November, approximately 75,000 people took to the streets of Santiago to take part in anti-government protests. During the protests, a Roman Catholic church in Santiago was looted and its religious iconography was burned in the street. A university near Santiago's Plaza Italia square was burned as well
On 6 January 2020, university entrance exams to be taken by 300,000 students around Chile were disrupted by protests over inequality and elitism, with some students blocking access to test sites and burning exam papers.
At the end of January 2020, the social unrest (which had reduced somewhat during the Chilean summer holidays) resumed again with large demonstrations. The protests were catalysed by incidents such as the death of Jorge Mora, struck by a Carabinero vehicle after a football match. As of February 2020, an estimated 36 people had died. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the violence of the police and announced that between 18 October and 6 December 2019, 28,000 people had been imprisoned. The Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos (INDH) reported at the end of January 2020 that 427 persons had received eye injuries at the hands of the police. The INDH also recorded 697 attacks on lone civilians by state actors between the start of the protests in October and 31 January. Of these, 123 attacks were by Carabineros.
The protests had to come to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the establishment of several partial lockdowns in Santiago and other cities. Taking advantage of the situation, government agencies erased most of the graffiti and street art in downtown Santiago that was drawn during the protests. On 3 April, President Sebastián Piñera visited an empty Plaza Italia and took some pictures in it, which was considered by many as a way of taunting the protesters under quarantine. Piñera later regretted the situation and mentioned that he was "misinterpreted". Despite the lockdown, some protests appeared during International Workers' Day in Santiago that resulted in the arrest of 57 people by Carabineros. Detained members of the international press were later released without charge. Similar incidents were reported in the port city of Valparaíso.
On 4 September 2020, police and demonstrators clashed at an anti-government protest at Plaza Italia, resulting in at least 20 arrests.
On 11 September 2020, the 47th anniversary of the Pinochet coup, protestors clashed with Santiago police at the central Plaza Italia that resulted in over one hundred arrests. Sixteen police officers and two civilians were injured.
In the following weeks, small protests appeared again in Plaza Italia usually on Fridays and were severely repressed by Carabineros. On 2 October, an incident occurred when a police officer pushed a 16-year-old protester off the Pío Nono bridge into the Mapocho river. The minor suffered several fractures and concussion and was rescued by protesters. The situation sparked new protests on Saturday, 3 October near Plaza Italia, being the first time since the start of a national lockdown that the square is taken by protesters. Opposition politicians called for the resignation of General Director Mario Rozas and announce an impeachment to the Ministry of Interior Víctor Pérez. Also, they announce they will reject the annual budget for Carabineros unless changes are implemented. The officer is under arrest and charged with attempted murder by the National Public Prossecutor.
On 18 October 2020, a year after the protests of 18 October 2019, individuals set a fire on the Parroquia de La Asunción in Santiago, resulting in the bell tower collapsing from the fire. One of the 5 suspects is a Chilean Navy Corporeal, which may have been an infiltrator from the Armed Forces, this was denied by the government and the Chilean Navy. Corporeal Ernesto Osorio was discharged from the Navy, while he is under investigation for his involvement in the arson. Two Catholic churches in Santiago were burned as well.
On 3 November 2020, Chile's Interior and Security Minister Victor Perez resigned after being suspended from his duties when the Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of an investigation over allegations he failed to stop police abuses during protests.
On 18 November 2020, hundreds demonstrated in the capital demanding President Piñera's resignation with regards to police repression of the protests.
Incidents and casualties
During the protests 36 people have died as of February 2020, and thousands have been injured and arrested. Amnesty International has received hundreds of complaints about serious human rights violations that range from excessive use of force to torture, illegal raids and arbitrary detention. Similar allegations have been received by Chile's National Institute for Human Rights, which also included reports of sexual violence.
- 19 October
- 20 October
- A 38-year-old man died in a supermarket fire on Matucana Avenue, located along the border of Santiago and Quinta Normal.
- Five people died in a textile factory fire in Renca; three of them were minors.
- A 21-year-old protester was shot dead by soldiers in La Serena; another was seriously injured.
- A 23-year-old protester was shot dead inside a La Polar store by soldiers in Coquimbo.
- 21 October
- Two people, one of them 74 years old, died in a supermarket fire in La Pintana.
- A 25-year-old man was shot and killed in Curicó, and the investigation indicated, due to the bullet found, that he had been shot by a business-owner's gun, and another three people were seriously injured. (The city was not under a state of emergency.)
- In the commune of Talcahuano, in the city of Concepción during a period of looting, military forces ran over and killed a 23-year-old man.
- A man was fatally electrocuted during looting in a Santa Isabel supermarket in a suburb of Santiago.
- A 39-year-old man died in a hospital from injuries sustained in a beating carried out by Carabineros in Maipú, western Santiago. (His name was initially not included on the official list of dead; it was added on 23 October.)
- 22 October
- 27 December
- Following the last protest march of the year, a demonstrator called Mauricio Fredes died after falling into a construction hole, whilst being pursued by police.
- 28 January
- As football fans left a stadium in Santiago after a match, a Carabinero vehicle struck and killed Jorge Mora.
- 31 January
Excessive use of force
According to the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH), the use of rubber pellets by security forces has left at least 964 injured, including 222 with eye problems. According to the Chilean Ophthalmology Society, this is the highest number of injuries of this type registered during protests or in conflict zones in the world. Bandaged eyes had become so common that they become a symbol for protesters.
Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters, including torture, sexual abuse and rape. Amnesty International's investigations "allege that state security forces, including both the police and army, deliberately use excessive force against protesters." Amnesty International went on to state that "[the military and police] are using unnecessary and excessive force with the intention of injuring and punishing protesters." According to Erika Guevara-Rosas, the America's director for the human rights group, "the intention of the Chilean security forces is clear: to injure demonstrators in order to discourage protest." Human Rights Watch stated that "indiscriminate and improper use of riot guns and shotguns, abuse of detainees in custody, and poor internal accountability systems gave rise to serious violations of the rights of many Chileans".
- On 18 October, During riots at the historical Estación Central station, a young woman was gravely injured in the legs by gunfire from Carabineros riot police. The woman was aided by nearby protesters and passers-by as she suffered extensive blood loss before being extracted by emergency services.
- On 19 October, a doctor assaulted by a police officer during a protest indicated that the police officer had signs of being under the influence of drugs.
- On 20 October, president Piñera extended the state of emergency in the north and south of the country and said "we are at war against a powerful enemy that doesn't respect anything or anyone".
- On 8 November, the Pedro Valdivia University was set ablaze. Initial reports suggested this was due to the indiscriminate firing of tear gas canisters by Carabineros into the building. The Roman Catholic church Veronica de Lastarria near the main site of the demonstration at Baquedano Square (commonly referred to as Italia Square) has been looted and a statue of Jesus and furniture from the interior of the church were taken out on the street and burned down.
- On 27 December, in the night, the Cine Arte Alameda, an arts center, was burnt down. An investigation by the Criminal Investigation Brigade (Brigada de Investigación Criminal) is reported to have concluded that no explanation for the fire could be ruled out.
- On 18 January The tomb of folksinger Víctor Jara was vandalised.
- On 20 January, at a protest following the death of Jorge Mora, a group of Carabineros beat up a young man called Matías Soto. The entire attack was recorded by a security camera. The INDH announced it would sue the Carabineros for torture.
- On 7 February, the Violeta Parra Museum was arson attacked. The chief of the Santiago Fire Department said the causes were not yet established.
- On 28 February, the Violeta Parra Museum was again arson attacked, with eyewitnesses recording that Carabineros shot at least 6 tear gas canisters into the building. Officially, the cause was not ascertained.
- On 18 October, a year after the start of the social outbreak, a series of demonstrations took place in which some 25,000 people gathered in various cities of the country. Although the majority were peaceful, within the framework of the Chile national plebiscite of 2020's campaign, there were isolated clashes with police, 580 people being detained, and two severe fires were registered in the Church of San Francisco de Borja and in the Parroquia de la Asunción, two catholic churches of Santiago.
- On 5 February, street artist Francisco Martínez dies as a result of the shooting of a police official during an identity check in Panguipulli, Los Ríos Region. His death generated a wave of protests, riots and vandalism, resulting later that night in the burning of the building that housed various public offices, including his town hall.
- On 12 March, the four tons statue of General Baquedano was removed from the Plaza Baquedano to be restored by the "National Council of Monuments", after continuous acts of vandalism by protesters. Attempts to burn and tear down the statue were made on 5 and 8 March respectively, ultimately prompting the authorities to take the decision.
In late November, security forces announced the suspension of the use of rubber pellets as a crowd control method in the protests.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both expressed concern over the government's response to the protests, citing "excessive use of force" by Chile's Carabineros, as well as "possible arbitrary detentions of demonstrators".
On the other hand, habitual "characters" have emerged from among the many demonstrations and protests throughout the country, who have gained significant attention on social media by being captured with particular attitudes or outfits. Once viralized, they were colloquially called the "Chilean Avengers", in reference to the superheroes of Marvel Comics. Among them stands out: "Baila Pikachu", "Stupid and sensual Spiderman", "Pareman", the "Dinosaur", "Nalcaman", the "Granny", the "Selknam", "Robin Hood", "Yutakiller" and the dog "Negro Matapacos". On November 22, 2019, some of them held a meeting recreating a scene from the movie The Avengers in Plaza Baquedano, organized by the production company Nano.
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