When were dogs first used against demonstrators?
Even after an apology from the Chilean president and the announcement of social improvements, the protests in Chile continue. In Santiago and many other cities in the country there were again large rallies on Thursday. As on Wednesday, trade unions called for a general strike, large parts of public life came to a standstill. In the capital and in the port city of Valparaíso there were again street battles with the security forces that lasted into the night. Protesters threw stones and set up burning barricades; police used tear gas, dogs, water cannons and rubber bullets.
The protests, which have been going on for a week, are the largest since the end of the military dictatorship in 1990. They are directed against government austerity measures, but above all against the great social inequality that prevails in the country. On Tuesday, President Sebastian Piñera tried to calm the situation. He apologized to the population and admitted that he did not recognize the extent of the discontent in the country. In addition, he promised an increase in the minimum pension and the minimum wage, cheaper drugs and frozen electricity prices. For many demonstrators, however, the president's apology came too late. In addition, many believe that the measures announced are not far-reaching enough.
At first glance, this criticism and the demonstrations come as a surprise. Chile is the fourth largest economic power in South America and the per capita income is one of the highest in the region. The economy is growing, the number of people living in absolute poverty is falling. In an interview at the beginning of October, Piñera said that, given the tense situation in Latin America, Chile was a "real oasis". How much the conservative billionaire and entrepreneur was wrong, however, became clear when he had to impose a curfew a few days later and declared in front of the cameras that Chile was at war.
The protests began with a price increase for the subway in the capital Santiago de Chile at the beginning of October. It was only about a few euro cents, but local public transport in Chile is one of the most expensive in Latin America anyway. When, after public criticism, the Minister of Economic Affairs also declared that there was the possibility of traveling cheaper underground if you only got up early enough, a storm of indignation broke out. Schoolchildren and student groups, who are traditionally an important factor in social protests in Chile, called for collective fare dodges. The government then sent the police to the subway and when they cracked down on the youth, the situation escalated. Metro stations burned and supermarkets were looted.
In addition to the violent clashes, there were also large and peaceful demonstrations that had long since ceased to be about the fare. Because despite all the economic successes, incomes in Chile are extremely unevenly distributed. The richest percent of the population keeps more than a quarter of the country's income for themselves. On the other hand, according to the Chilean statistics agency, the earnings of around half of the employees are only slightly above the minimum wage of the equivalent of 370 euros. Education at universities is privatized, many young people cannot afford to study or have to go into debt for years to come. The public health system is in ruins, and pension provision is largely in the hands of private companies.
Chile was a "real oasis" declared the president. The curfew came shortly afterwards
Many Chileans feel exploited by companies and abandoned by the government. In addition, politicians are often involved in business dealings themselves. And then there is the military, which also earns a lot and whose influence in the background has never been broken. It is these grievances that drive people onto the street with banners and pans and pots that they hit with wooden spoons. Another reason has long been contributing to the anger of the population: the brutality of the security forces.
In the past few days, police officers have been attacking demonstrators with batons and rubber bullets, armored vehicles have been rolling through Santiago de Chile, dogs have been used and water cannons have been used. Piñera has now also sent the military. For the first time since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, soldiers patrol the streets; 20,000 are deployed in the capital alone. According to the Ministry of Justice, the death toll has now risen to 18, at least five of whom were killed by the use of the police. Hundreds more are injured and more than 2,000 have been arrested, including many minors. There are reports of torture and sexual violence, and the United Nations wants to send a special human rights mission to Chile to investigate the attacks.
Many demonstrators are now calling not only for reforms, but also for President Piñera to step down. Large rallies and strikes are also planned for the weekend.
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