Over the past few months, Chile has been going through its largest and most forceful anti-government demonstration since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Almost thirty people have lost their lives and thousands of protestors and policemen have been injured in the unrest that started in the capital, Santiago, by students objecting a small increase in metro fares. Initial demonstrations has since built-up into a massive nationwide social movement. Several other groups like LGBTQ, feminists, indigenous minorities, vegans and animal rights activists tagging along, generating a gripping art movement which has covered city streets.
The protestors are calling for affordable higher education, fair access to health care and the president’s resignation along with a new constitution.
The South American country ranks as one of the most prosperous and economically stable in the region, with a poverty rate well below 10%; however, the country exhibits high levels of socio-economic inequality.While the majority of demonstrations are peaceful, there are a good number of extremely violent masked individuals who have attacked police with Molotov cocktails and rocks. Numerous government buildings, businesses and the city’s metro lines have been vandalized, looted and set alight. Most individual casualties are tied to these incidents, while some deaths have been linked to direct clashes with police during demonstrations.
As unrest and violence increases, the government declares a state of emergency by implementing a curfew and sending troops back on the streets in an attempt to restore order. The resulting violent government response leads to several human rights abuses, including excessive force, illegal detentions and hundreds of eye injuries due to rubber bullet impacts (which are no longer being used).
A well-organized group of first-aid volunteers, The Red Helmets, have been assisting wounded demonstrators who have been struck by non-lethal ammunition and tear gas canisters.Plaza Italia square -the uprising’s ground-zero- and surroundings have been occupied by protestors for several months. Demonstrators have improvised attack and defensive weaponry out of cobblestones, fire extinguishers, street signs and TV satellite dishes, while blocking the main street with make-shift barricades. Only late at night and after several hours of battle, police manages to push demonstrators off, establishing a buffer zone; only to have demonstrators back the next morning.The Chilean government has scheduled a referendum for next April (2020) to replace the Pinochet-era constitution.