Protesters argue with Chilean soldiers during clashes in Santiago on October 19, 2019
Santiago (AFP) - Chileans angry over social and economic issues clashed with security forces for a second day Saturday despite a state of emergency declared to quell the worst violence in years in one of Latin America’s most stable countries.
Following a day of stunning violence in Santiago that saw buses and buildings burned and dozens of metro stations destroyed by fire, Saturday started peacefully as thousands of Chileans banged pots and pans in protest in the capital and other cities.
But this eventually gave way to clashes between hooded demonstrators and riot police and soldiers in several areas of Santiago, AFP observed.
Protesters again set buses on fire in downtown Santiago, a city of seven million.
A bus burns during clashes between protesters and riot police in Santiago, Chile October 19, 2019
Clashes erupted in Plaza Italia, ground zero of Friday’s violence, and outside the presidential palace. Bus service was later suspended altogether.
- Chile Desperto -
Demonstrators shouted “enough with abuse,” while the hashtag “ChileDesperto” – Chile woke up – made the rounds on social media.
Demonstrators set up barricades during clashes between protesters and the riot police in Santiago, Chile on October 19, 2019
People awoke Saturday to a ravaged city as burned-out buses, bikes and garbage littered streets patrolled by soldiers – the first such deployment in decades.
The spasm of unrest was triggered by an increase in metro fares but reflected a much broader anger over economic and social conditions, including a yawning gap between rich and poor.
The conservative government of President Sebastian Pinera has been caught flat-footed by the worst social upheaval in decades.
It declared the state of emergency late Friday and put a general in charge of national security, ordering 500 troops into the streets.
More than 300 people have been arrested, and 156 police injured, as were 11 civilians.
“It is sad, but this destruction was people’s way of demanding they be heard. Chile was a pressure cooker, and it exploded in the worst way,” said a civil servant who would only give her first name Maria, waiting to catch a bus amid the detritus of Friday’s protests.
People were infuriated by a photo of Pinera eating pizza in a restaurant with his family while the city burned.
On Saturday he announced a plan to ease the pain of the metro fare hike for low-income people. He gave no details.
Soldiers patrolled some parts of the city Saturday in their first such deployment since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 after the Augusto Pinochet rightwing dictatorship.
A metro station in Chile burns October 18, 2019 during protests triggered by a fare hike
Throughout Friday, rampaging protesters clashed with riot police in several parts of the capital while the headquarters of the ENEL Chile power company and a Banco Chile branch – both in the city center – were set on fire and heavily damaged.
The subway system was shut down, and no one knows when it will reopen. Protesters destroyed 41 stations, with some completely charred.
The Santiago Metro, at 140 kilometers (90 miles), is the largest and most modern in South America and a source of great pride for Chileans.
The state of emergency is initially set for 15 days and restricts freedom of movement and assembly.
- Government ‘perplexed and dazed’ -
Chilean soldiers patrol the streets of Santiago in the early hours of the morning after violent protests triggered a declaration of a state of emergency
Authorities said the military would patrol major trouble spots but would not impose a curfew at present.
The unrest started as a fare-dodging protest mainly by students against the hike in metro ticket prices, which increased from 800 to 830 peso ($1.13 to $1.17) for peak-hour travel, following a 20 peso rise in January.
The fare hike was blamed on rising oil prices and a weaker peso.
There had been several fare-dodging actions in recent days, organized on social media, but the protests escalated Friday, tapping into general discontent among many Chileans.
Chile has the highest per capita income of Latin America at $20,000, with expected economic growth this year of 2.5 percent and just two percent inflation.
The unrest started as a fare-dodging protest against the hike in metro ticket prices
But there is an undercurrent of frustration with rising health care and utility costs, low pensions and social inequality.
The metro fare hike served to wake up a society that was averse to violence after the horrors of the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990, which left more than 3,200 people dead or missing, sociologists say.