State of emergency in Chile as violent protests sweep across capital
Angry mobs of protesters smashed train stations and set fire to buildings as violence swept through Santiago after a hike in metro fares.
Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s president, declared a state of emergency in the capital after widespread arson and clashes with police in the heart of South America’s wealthiest country.
On Friday night Santiago was shrouded in smoke as the high-rise headquarters of energy company Enel was engulfed in flames and authorities battled fires at metro stops and banks across the city.
The state of emergency, established by Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution, grants the government additional powers to restrict freedom of movement and citizens’ right to assembly.
Speaking in a televised address from the presidential palace just in the early hours of Saturday, president Sebastián Piñera criticised the protesters as “delinquents”. He said: “There will be no room for violence in a country with the rule of law at its core.” The demonstrations began earlier this week when students jumped metro turnstiles en masse in a campaign against a rise in fares.
The hike put Santiago’s metro among the most expensive in Latin America, at 830 pesos (90p) during rush hour. While Chile is the wealthiest country in the region, it is also the most unequal.
By Friday the demonstrations had left the subway and spread throughout the city, fuelled by angst over the rising cost of living, specifically healthcare, education and public services, while wages remain stagnant.
“For many years there’s been an abuse of power,” Daniela, a 20-year-old student, her face partially covered, told The Sunday Telegraph. “It’s not just students who are affected, it’s workers, it’s all the population. In truth, it affects everyone.”
Another student, Mariela, added: “We want them to lower the metro fare again because they aren’t putting salaries up. This affects our parents, we are here in solidarity for our families. We want to unite to make the government listen.” In the afternoon, protesters had blocked off part of the main thoroughfare leading to the presidential palace.
With the metro system closed off, thousands of commuters were forced to walk home through the demonstrations as traffic clogged downtown Santiago. Police responded violently as protests escalated on the streets.
The streets were wet from water cannon used to disperse protesters. One young woman was shot with a rubber bullet during clashes at the central station, and police were seen dragging demonstrators from the metro.
As night fell, Santiago was left haunted by the sight of armoured vehicles deploying teargas, an image some have ominously linked to the days of dictatorship.
Residents banged pots and pans together in a traditional cacerolazo protest, a sound almost blocked out by the cries of sirens and helicopters overhead.
The protests take place as Chile prepares to host two major international conferences: an APEC summit next month, and COP25 in December.