Protests that started to oppose the Chilean government’s decision to scrap government subsidies in the public transport system turned violent over the last two days with the death of five people following a garment factory being set on fire by looters near the country’s capital Santiago.
The total number of deaths in the violent protests has not reached seven.
While the government imposed curfew in the major cities, security forces used tear gas and water cannon to disperse unruly crowds. The government has already declared a state of emergency in Santiago and is also being extended to cover other cities to the north and south of the country because of the spreading of the violent protests. .
While the protests were initially related to withdrawal of subsidies and consequent hike in fares of metro train networks, it has not expanded to include increasing living costs in the country and the growing wealth inequality in the country. The government has since scrapped the increased metro fare hike.
Business in the country is expected to be hit this week because of forced closure of banks along with shops and schools.
Chile’s Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick claimed that at least seven people were killed in the various violent incidents related to the protests. No details were however provided by him.
According to reports, at least 70 “serious incidents of violence” have taken place during the protests that include 40 incidents of lootings of supermarkets and other businesses.
“We’re facing a real escalation that is undoubtedly organised to cause serious damage to our country and the lives of each of its citizens,” the minister said.
The protests have taken its toll on the country’s capital Santiago where virtually all public transport were off roads and many flights at its international airport were forced to be cancelled or rescheduled as crew could not reach the airports and report for duty.
The slack response to the protests by the country’s President Sebastián Piñera, a billionaire conservative, has been severely criticized.
Piñera described the people engaging in lighting fires, setting up barricades and looting as “criminals” during a television interview. “We’re very aware that [those behind the riots] have a degree of organization, logistics, typical of a criminal organization,” he said. “I call on all my compatriots to unite in this battle against violence and delinquency.”
Piñera was re-elected as president in his latest stint and assumed office in March 2018. He had earlier served in the same position between 2010 and 2014. These protests is the first occasion since 1990 that Chile has seen deployment of soldiers and tanks on the streets. In 1990 Chile returned to democracy after the ouster of its former dictator of Augusto Pinochet.
“We’re at war against a powerful and implacable enemy who doesn’t respect anything or anyone, and who’s willing to use limitless violence and criminal acts.” That is how President Piñera described the protests late on Sunday.
One of the reasons for the protests is opposition to the growing wealth inequality in the country – which is one of the wealthiest of Latin America but also one of the most unequal in terms of wealth distribution. The protesters have called for wide ranging economic reforms in the country.
(Adapted from BBC.com)