Marking a year since protests and riots broke out in the Chilean capital of Santiago, rioters on Sunday set fire to two of the city’s churches and damaged other areas of the city, while tens of thousands of peaceful protesters marched to a central Santiago square to protest growing economic inequality in the country.
Mass protests and riots were sparked on Oct. 18 last year when commuters reacted to an increase in train fares, which the government quickly reversed. But the protests, estimated to be attended by around a million people, then expanded into wider calls to address low wages, income disparity, and increasing living costs facing many Chileans that some analysts say are the result of the country’s aggressive climate policies adopted under former Socialist Party President Michelle Bachelet, which raised energy and transport costs, and reduced household disposable income, impacting low-income households the most.
Leftist groups also started demanding the resignation of conservative President Sebastián Piñera, as well as changes to the country’s constitution, which was approved in a 1980 plebiscite during the military dictatorship of anti-communist President Augusto Pinochet. A referendum on whether to replace the constitution is scheduled for next week.
NUEVO VIDEO 2ª Alarma de #Incendio, en Av. Vicuña Mackenna y Barón Pierre de Coubertin, #Santiago; B2, B13, Q7, B1, B3, Q8, BM13, B5, BT3, Z2, Z22, RH1, RX8, S1, H4, K3, X3, K1, MX13, M5 y M8. pic.twitter.com/eWwkcEwafO
— 13 Compañía CBS (@13Providencia) October 18, 2020
Over 30 people were killed and thousands wounded in the month of October 2019 alone as rioters set ablaze dozens of metro stations, and smashed and looted pharmacies, supermarkets, and gasoline pumps, disrupting the supply of essential goods.
Thousands of police and riot police resorted to tear gas and water cannons to disperse the riots.
The chaos cost Chilean businesses around $1.4 billion in losses, and the city’s metro public transport suffered nearly $400 million in damages. Police made at least 7,000 arrests.
The only democratically elected conservative president since 1958, Piñera said following the riots last year that “violent activists” were behind the violence and destruction. “They are at war against all Chileans of good will who want to live in a democracy with freedom and in peace,” he said.
He also said he understood the hardships compelling peaceful protesters to the streets, adding: “I commit the best effort of our government as we have been doing these years to put children ‘first in line,’ to improve pensions, to lower the price of medicines, to ensure that all Chileans have the opportunity of a fuller and happier life.”
In scenes mirroring far-left riots in the United States, Chile on Sunday saw further widespread incidents of violence, looting, and vandalism in the afternoon after a morning of peaceful and spirited protests by people singing, dancing, and wearing masks to protect against COVID-19 in Santiago’s Plaza Italia.
Afternoon and evening demonstrations saw a different groups of protesters emerge, who burned the churches, vandalized a statue in Plaza Italia with red paint, and attacked police stations and shops.
Police estimated around 25,000 attended the daytime protests before 6 p.m.—far less than the Oct. 18 protest of 2019.
Local media reported that five people were arrested in relation to the burning and looting of San Francisco de Borja Church (the Church of Saint Francis of Borgia)—a historic building erected in 1876 that has been dedicated to the Chilean national police force for the last 40 years—which has been the target of constant attacks, particularly since October last year.
Fortunately, firefighters managed to get that blaze under control.
But the Parroquia de la Asunción (Church of the Assumption or “artists’ parish”) was totally burned and destroyed by groups of hooded men, according to further local media reports. The church’s burning spire fell to the ground around 8 p.m.
The archbishop of Santiago, Celestino Aós, said of the new round of riots that the poor would again be “most affected” by the destruction.
“Violent actions and vandalism we suffer again today,” he said. “We mourn the destruction of our temples and other public property. But above all, we feel the pain of so many Chilean people of peace and generosity.
“Those images not only impact and hurt in Chile, but also impact and hurt in other countries and other peoples of the world, especially Christian brothers,” he said of the church burnings.
Around 300 rioters also organized an attack on the 20th Police Station in the commune of Puente Alto around 6:15 p.m., throwing Molotov cocktails and other objects at the station, according to local outlet Atentos Chile. Similar attacks were reported at other police stations. One officer was reported to have been shot and at least 22 police have been admitted to hospital after sustaining injuries, La Tercera _