Protests In Chile's Capital City Show No Signs Of Stopping

Oct 22, 2019
Originally published on October 22, 2019 7:53 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The protests that have taken over Chile's capital city show no sign of stopping.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

CHANG: The city of Santiago has been under a nighttime curfew for three nights in a row. More than a dozen people have died in protest-related violence, and the country's president already has declared a state of emergency. NPR's Philip Reeves is in the center of things in Santiago, and Phil, can you just describe what you've been seeing on the streets so far?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, the first impression going around town this morning was that life's beginning to get back to normal. Cars are moving around. Some shops are open. But then you start to notice things like the long lines outside supermarkets, people walking to work long distances sometimes because the metro system is mostly shut down after being damaged in riots. And above all, the army soldiers in helmets are standing around in clusters. You know, for people in Chile, particularly the older generation, that's a pretty shocking sight, reviving memories of the dictatorship years in the 1970s under Augusto Pinochet.

I went to that demonstration you just heard. There were several thousand people chanting and singing and hitting pots and pans, and a couple of armored cars rolled up. Cops in full riot gear got out, and the crowd actually marched towards them, spilling into the streets. And the water cannons started being fired, and tear gas started to float right around. So it is very volatile.

CHANG: You mentioned the metro system, and I understand that these protests began after the government hiked public transit fares. Is that all there is to this, or are there kind of broader reasons why people are out on the streets?

REEVES: This is definitely about much more than that. In fact, I've been trying to pin this down by asking that exact question of people at the demonstration that I was mentioning. Listen to Fernanda Rochas, who's a 23-year-old student.

FERNANDA ROCHAS: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: So she's saying that people are tired. She talks about how the state's got to end repression, and she lambasts the decision to put the army on the streets, calling it a lack of respect. But she's very specific that it's not about the transport fare hike. She talks about a crisis in health care, education. A lot of people believe these protests were started by students, and the crowd you just heard was mostly young, but there are older people. Middle-class people are getting involved. A lot of this is about deep dissatisfaction with President Sebastian Pinera, who's a multi-billionaire, right-wing, and a sense that he's out of touch. Jose Mancilla is 66 and a math teacher.

JOSE MANCILLA: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: And he's saying there's enormous disenchantment in Chile with the whole political class. He accuses Pinera of doing nothing in his first term and, now in his second, doing absolutely nothing again. And that is a sentiment that you hear quite often.

CHANG: What should we be looking for in terms of this coming to an end?

REEVES: Well, it's difficult to say. You know, there have been 2,600 arrests. Human rights groups are getting more and more concerns about abuses committed by the army and police. Videos are going around, which are hard to verify, but these show beatings by soldiers. And there are allegations around of the use of live ammunition. President Pinera is trying to calm things down. He's been talking about forging a new social contract to alleviate inequality. But on the streets today, you know, those I spoke to seem very committed to forcing real change by continuing this, and that's not just only in Santiago, the capital. There was a huge demonstration in Concepcion, a city five hours south of here, and elsewhere, too.

CHANG: That's NPR's Philip Reeves.

Philip, thanks for your reporting.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.