Santiago is burning—literally.
There are burning barricades in the middle of the streets, 24/7 protests at Plaza Italia, clouds of tear gas in the air, people banging cooking pots from their balcony, military helicopters flying above our heads, stones or Molotov cocktails impacts and plenty of reading material on the walls.
Civil unrest is still going on in Santiago.
It was my mom who broke me the news something was going on in Chile back in October. “I heard something on the radio… then I turned the oven on, the fuse box tripped, power went out and I didn’t find out what happened.”
“Must have been an earthquake,” I mused. “Didn’t check the news today, I was cleaning the house.”
“More like protests, I think.”
“In Chile? Huh. Weird… The country is doing pretty well!”
Good thing I’m not a foreign policy advisor. I went home and checked the news—Chile had taken to the streets to protest against a subway fare hike and more generally against the government of Sebastián Piñera.
Ah. Didn’t see this one coming. My money would have been on Argentina for the next South America revolution.
We’ve spent a lot of time in Chile over the past few years and it did seem to be one of South America’s most stable and prosperous countries. It welcomed plenty of immigrants from Haiti, Peru, and most recently from Venezuela. The gap between rich and poor didn’t feel as bad as in Brazil and the inflation rate is nothing like in Argentina.
But looking back, there were signs I may have missed. For instance, in 2018 and in 2019, I was surprised to see that International Women’s Day was taken very seriously in Chile, with marches, protests, calls for women’s rights and riot police using tear gas. Two years ago, Pope Francis’s trip to Chile was met with hostility.
Chileans are nice people but when they’re pissed off, they take it to the street.
And clearly, Chile is pissed off. The protests started as a fare-dodging campaign but apparently, plenty of Chileans want a different society, a new constitution, less poverty and inequalities, more rights for indigenous Chile (the Mapuche flag is one of the protest symbols) and minorities in general. The neoliberal capitalist economy is questioned. There’s a strong feminist movement calling for abortion rights and the end of violence again women.
Piñera sent the riot police and the military against civilians and the state of emergency was declared. The situation escalated. Police brutality led to several deaths, thousands of injuries and even more arrests.
Chile Despertó as they said—“Chili woke up.”
Santiago looks like a battlefield. Garbage cans, metro stations, bus shelters have been torched. Businesses are boarded up. There’s glass everywhere. The most impressive part may be the walls, completely blanketed with political messages and posters. The key words? “Pacos” (cops”) and “ACAB” (“all cops are bastards”).
There are no traffic lights in many parts of the city, so everybody runs through traffic.
You can buy gas masks, face marks, eye goggles, slingshots, spray bottles of water and bicarbonate of soda (to neutralize the effect of teargas) from street vendors.
Seeing soldiers and armoured vehicles on the streets feels weird.
The city is a mess, but a lively one.
Okay, now is probably not the best time to hang out in Santiago. We’re fine, it’s Christmas and things are a bit quieter. I’m not scared of protesters, I stay away from the police.
I hope Chile will be okay too.