From Subway Fare Protest to State of Emergency

What started as a protest of high school students in Santiago against transit fare hikes (see yesterday blog) escalated into an urban rebellion. President Piñera went on TV just after midnight, declared a state of emergency for the whole metropolitan region of Chile—with the military in charge of and patrolling the streets—and walked off the stage refusing to answer any questions. Yesterday, police responded with violence to repress young people who were protesting fare increases by jumping subway turn-styles and taking over metro (subway) stations. We saw horrific pictures on TV news of police beating students and shooting them with what looked like rubber bullets. People were seriously injured and we heard one student leader was killed but that is not confirmed. CNN Chile reports 9 were shot, 308 people were detained, and 156 police were injured. Currently, the government has suspended metro service indefinitely, and futbol (soccer) games have also been suspended. 

As people took over streets and took out their anger on banks and the transit system, Santiago went up in flames. Dozens of metro stations burned, and there were three huge fires in Santiago center. People broke windows in the Lider supermarket (owned by Walmart and we’ve seen first hand what kind of exploitation of the public that is) and a branch of the Bank of Chile.

The state of emergency extends for 15 days and can be extended another 15 by congressional approval. It restricts freedom of movement and meetings. It can be issued in case of “danger for the security of the nation” or a “grave altercation of public order.” Both of which the government invoked in declaring it.

15 minutes after Piñera declared the state of emergency, at 12:31, people in the center of Santiago were out chanting “el pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido” (the people united will never be defeated) and were banging pots. Today, spread across the city, there are people out, chanting, banging pots. Police and the army seem not to be restricting any demonstrations at the moment, but the military are patrolling the streets and things are escalating RAPIDLY as we write this. Demonstrations have already been called. The FECH (student organization based at the University of Chile) has called for a major demonstration this Monday. All across Chile already, there are spontaneous demonstrations breaking out and planned. Here in Valparaíso, there are two planned for today and tonight.

As we write this, the military has occupied Plaza Maipú in Santiago, in full battle gear, and just dragged someone away, as shown on local news. A friend of ours said, “The government reaction is not unseen. What it is new is people’s response. Generally people in Chile are more afraid to speak up than this. It’s usually only students protesting. It’s like the 2011 and 2006 [student] protests all over again, but escalating. And all those ended with the police killing people.”

It looks and feels like an urban insurrection. We will be updating frequently…

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