The Slatest

Violent Protests Continue in Chile Despite Backtrack on Subway Fare Hike

Demonstrators clash with riot police during protests in Santiago on October 20, 2019.
Demonstrators clash with riot police during protests in Santiago on October 20, 2019.

Violent protests continued in Chile on Sunday even after the government decided to cancel a subway fare hike that had sparked street demonstrations and led to the declaration of a state of emergency. At least eight people died as a result of fires sparked in the middle of looting in what is the worst social unrest the country has faced since the return of democracy in 1990.

The demonstrations have jolted a country that is usually seen as one of Latin America’s most stable and prosperous nations. As security forces struggle to quell the unrest the Chilean military declared a night-time curfew in the capital for the second day in a row Sunday. On Saturday, many Chileans defied the curfew and fires and looting continued as protests appeared to be spreading outside of the capital into other regions. Nearly 1,500 people have been arrested since the protests began.

The subway fare hike announced two weeks ago sparked protests amid widespread discontent over the high cost of living in the country that is one of the region’s wealthiest but also most unequal. Protesters also said they were taking to the streets to express their discontent over a number of other issues, including low pensions and costly utilities. President Sebastian Piñera said late Saturday that he had listened “with humility” to “the voice of my compatriots” and decided to roll back the hike. Yet, in an illustration of how the demonstrations have evolved into a lot more than just the subway fare hikes, the protests spread to more cities and some are calling for a national strike on Monday, leading to speculation that the situation could worsen.

The violent protests that caused airlines to divert flights and led to schools and shops to be closed are taking place weeks before Chile is set to host President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping along with several other world leaders for a regional summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. A few weeks later, it is set to host the COP25 United Nations climate change summit.

Before the violent protests that have engulfed Chile over the past few days, the country was seen as a rare spot of calm and prosperity in a region plagued with problems. Things have quickly changed in the country and now images of soldiers patrolling the streets were shocking for many in Chile given the 17-year military dictatorship that ruled the country and committed human rights abuses. This weekend marked the first time since 1990 that the government declared a state of emergency.