In Chile, there is no stopping the protests. If anyone thought, or feared, that the constitutional referendum won decisively a month ago would slow down the demonstrations, they had their answer this week: on Wednesday and Friday, Plaza de la Dignidad filled up again, as it has done since October 19, 2019. And with the demonstrations, the violence of the police forces has returned as well.
One of the most powerful ideas that has led large numbers of Chileans to join the protests is the call for President Piñera to leave office. The Peruvian wave, with three presidents in seven days, has given renewed energy to the local movements here. Beside the resignation of the president, the protesters are asking for freedom for the people arrested during the protests and for Mapuche activists. The discontent towards the government and president is also fueled by the obstacles to the constituent process that institutional politics is putting in place.
While the mobilization clearly has its main point in Santiago de Chile, it also extends to other parts of the country, where the calls for the resignation of the president, accused of defending the interests of the richest and of turning his back on the needs of the majority of the population, are very strong, coming with the slogan “Piñera, conchetumare, asesino igual que Pinochet” (“Piñera, motherfucker, murderer just like Pinochet”).
The movement remains wide, varied and decentralized. Friday’s demonstration brought together so many people that it recalled the largest pre-referendum protests, and with the absence of a clear political point of reference, different voices, different colors and the most conflicting expressions were found there, together with organized soccer fans, all a part of the multitude engaged in struggle. Culturally, the strongest reference point for the movement is the ‘70s, with artists such as Inti Illimani or Victor Jara and the anti-dictatorship political movements.
“There is still a lot of anger,” says Rodrigo Bustos Bottai, a human rights activist, “about Chile’s social inequalities. A lot of anger. Many believe that there is not enough aid in a country with a lot of poverty, and that there are large differences regarding what is happening with the pandemic. At the many demonstrations that have taken place, and will probably continue, there are reports of human rights violations, some of them serious ones.”
On Friday, social media was filled with images of violence by the police forces. The carabineros are being kept under particular scrutiny—also because, just ten days ago, Mario Rozas, the Chief of Police, had to resign because of the powerful protests that arose after two officers shot and wounded two minors in Talcahuano.
“There are still various kinds of complaints about violence suffered after being arrested. They are certainly serious ones, but fortunately in smaller numbers than in October and November of last year,” recalls Bustos Bottai.
Another factor contributing to the atmosphere in the squares and at the protests is the national strike of the health workers. They are calling for an increase in the 2021 budget and deem the resources allocated by the government to public health insufficient.
Getting Piñera out of office earlier is also being debated in Parliament, after some members of the opposition presented a proposal on Tuesday to bring forward the presidential and parliamentary elections to April, holding them at the same time as the voting to choose the constituent assembly.
The supporters of this initiative argue that due to the economic and social crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for a government and a National Congress with a high response capacity and legitimacy, qualities that the government does not enjoy at the grassroots level in the country.
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