Now in Chile: Social Unrest!

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November 11th 2019
Published: November 12th 2019
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Friday Night MarchasFriday Night MarchasFriday Night Marchas

One of the many marcha posters passed around via social media, this one for last Friday's (Nov 8) rally at Plaza Italia in centro. The dog pictured came to fame as he was present at many of the initial protests and would growl at police. Plaza Italia is the focal point of the protests, with people renaming it "Plaza de la dignidad", and was also the location for the largest rally thus far, 1.2 million people on October 25th.
So how to explain the last few weeks…and you may not be aware, but starting October 18th, Chile saw the beginnings of a massive social movement against the current state of the social system. And I don’t want to be flippant with this situation, as what people here are fighting for, is important, and the situation is complex. Now, not that I was predicting this would happen, but in hindsight I can see how the issues Chile faces with inequality, as well as the current structure of the social system, could lead to problems such as this. The best way to put it is that in the last few weeks when it comes to us and our lives, is they have ceased to have a rythym – each day is now different, each day is unpredictable. I have never had to work from home, or have my kids school close, because of social unrest. Last week we went home twice from the office after a half day due to potential protests close to our offices. Protests, mind you, that ended in teargas fired, vandalism, and looting. And while I don’t think personally we are in any danger at this point, there
Plaza Italia rally October 25thPlaza Italia rally October 25thPlaza Italia rally October 25th

1.2 millions Chileans can't be wrong! After the first first week of protests, many which ended with looting, property destruction and violence, this gathering ended without any incidents. Someone we knew who lived nearby though and wandered down did mention though that a few Port-o-Potties may have come in handy. To give you an idea, our house is located off in the distance, past the taller buildings far in the background.
is a lot of frustration and confusion as it is hard to see a clear solution to what is happening right now in Chile.

So what happened? A transit fare increase, which began days of protests by students at metro stations, culminated in a night of rioting in looting all around Santiago. The clueless gringos we were, we were out having dinner not far from where some of it was occurring. A number of metro stations were burned, and getting home from dinner that night I logged onto twitter to see video of one of the electricity utilities’ office buildings (Enel) on fire, along with a significant number of metro stations. The fare evasion started it all, however it seems like years of pent up anger over the inequality of the system led to further rioting and then looting as the weekend progressed. The situation quickly spiraled and the Chilean military was called in to support the carabineros (Chilean police). That Saturday afternoon as we walked to Starbucks, and our phones buzzed with information from other gringos on our what’s app chat group, we started to realize that this was not just going to be a temporary thing. We
Smoke over Santiago - Friday, November 8thSmoke over Santiago - Friday, November 8thSmoke over Santiago - Friday, November 8th

I took this from a friend's balcony close to my work. A fire set to one of the heritage buildings at a University near Plaza Italia resulted in huge plumes of smoke over the city on Friday. In the foreground is the main business district, including Costanera Centre, the tallest building in South America and a symbol of the establishment here in Chile. The second highest building in the picture is Titanium, where some of Teck's offices are located. Also in the foreground are people playing tennis at one of the more exclusive country clubs in Santiago (Los Leones). Shows a bit of the contrasts here in Santiago.
left Starbucks to go to the grocery store to pick up a few things we needed just in case…it was 330 in the afternoon and you could see people were scrambling around. Word of the seriousness of the situation had gotten around, and talk of a potential military curfew, something not seen since the Pinochet years, began. In the strip mall close to our house everyone seemed to be in a sort of restrained panic. The grocery store stopped us from coming in and said they were closing. Busses sat outside to take grocery store workers home as transit had been shut down. We walked back home (quickly), and while Steph distracted the kids with putting up our tent, I went to the gas station to fill up our car. It was then that I felt a little panic, as cars were lined up to get gas, and I then lined up to grab a few supplies, including drinking water, in the gas station convenience store. There would be a military curfew that night of 8pm, so I quickly got what I needed and headed home. Even with the curfew that night the riots continued, and a significant number of
View of the same fire from a helicopterView of the same fire from a helicopterView of the same fire from a helicopter

Related to the photo above, this was the fire that was set at Universidad Pedro de Valdividia in Santiago Centro and can be seen from the balcony.
stores (partlicularly Liders, which is Wal-Mart’s name in Chile) were broken into and burned. Sunday morning we spent driving around looking for where to buy groceries, and we managed to stumble upon a fruit stand as it opened, and then lined up at a pastry shop to buy bread and stock up. Word came through later Sunday that the toque de queda (curfew) would be pushed up to 6pm that night, and Teck and our girls' school announced they would be closed Monday. Videos from social media made the rounds of people rioting and looting stores, and included one of a shooting that had occurred at a gas station outside of Steph’s building (it did not end well for the manifestantes, as this was across the street from the US Embassy)…this may have just been strictly opportunistic given everything else that was going on, but it was pretty scary nonetheless. We would not be back into the office until Wednesday, and even then there was a real feeling of unease. We, as well as the rest of Chile, spent the rest of the week under various military curfews.

I don’t think in those days I was ever at full
Preparing for weekend protests - Nov 8Preparing for weekend protests - Nov 8Preparing for weekend protests - Nov 8

This was taken near my office Friday, and today most buildings are boarded up like this on the bottom floor. Wednesday and Thursday of the previous week protesters started protesting around Costanera Centre, about a km away from here, which resulted in a number of businesses being vandalized and looted. Besides Friday night, things were fairly quiet in Santiago at least for the rest of the weekend, and there did not look like there were any problems around my office building on the weekend.
panic, but there were certainly moments when I felt scared. We’re here with our kids, and based on everything that is happening, we weren’t sure if we were safe. I’m not used to lining up for gas and groceries because of social unrest outside…I don’t want to say Chileans are either, as it has been a generation since things like this have happened, but there is some institutional memory of it. The first Sunday/Monday I did feel quite worried, that maybe the looting and violence would make its way over to our neighbourhood…there were a few incidents that occurred around us, including a march that was tear gassed a few kms from our house, as well as a Lider in our neighbourhood being looted. But the eerie sense that permeated the air that Saturday afternoon, that restrained panic that I spoke about, was one of the odder feelings I have ever felt, and is still clear in my mind. Some of the stories from co-workers about what was going on in their neighbourhoods in the first few days were truly scary...people banding together with weapons to make sure their houses or businesses were not looted. Things are somewhat more subdued now, but even on Friday, I sat at work watching guys measure windows at the street across from me to fit plywood into them, as in the last week protests have moved towards “Sanhatten”, the business district in Chile, and into Providencia, one of the more affluent neighbourhoods here. In the neighbourhood that we live in, in one of the three communities that make up the Barrio Alto, those being Las Condes, Vitacura, and Lo Barnachea, problems have been relatively non-existent, except for the few I mentioned above and other occasional “marchas”. As we head into the fourth week of protests, the expectation is that this week will be as unpredictable as the last few and now the street we work on, Avenida Apoquindo, where I work, has plywood or metal covering the glass of the first floor of every building. There is a call for a national strike tomorrow (Nov 12th), and no one really knows who will or will not be striking. I assume every day we will sit here at work waiting to see whether or not we are told to leave early. As I said, I feel safe, and provided we aren’t going into the problem areas, and not attending protests (not planning to!) I don’t expect anything will happen. But the probability of the risk of something happening has increased, if just slightly. Further down Avenue Apoquindo, and into Providencia, there is a lot of graffiti, missing street signs and traffic lights, and various stores and bus stations with broken glass from protests that occurred the previous week. Friday night, which had “La Marcha Mas Grade de Chile Parte 3” (every Friday they have huge rallies in Plaza Italia, which is the epicenter of the protest in Santiago Centro), we could see plumes of smoke rising from that area after a huge fire broke out at one of the universities in the area (see attached pic). Later we went out for dinner with some friends closer to our house, and it’s like being in a different world, even though there are hundreds of thousands of people protesting and the occasional vandal burning things only 10 km away.

So I think the big question in our minds is, how long does this last, and where does it go? I suppose I can give my opinion on the situation, which probably doesn’t mean much (note to reader: I spent part of one of the days at home in the early parts of the protests setting up my poolside furniture while certain parts of the city descended into lawlessness – look, I had nothing else to do and needed to keep the kids busy), but it’s hard not to be aware of the inequality here. I mean, we live it every day, and the example of that is we have a nanny, something we would not be able to afford in Canada as labour costs here are lower…and mind you, I don’t sense that the cost of living is that much cheaper (at least not the areas we are living, but still, life is more expensive here than you would think). Beyond that, you can see it in the mindset of people, the whole idea of “class”…I’m not trying to say Canada is classless, because it’s not, but here there is such a discrepancy in the access to health and education, and a lot of your chance of where you end up depends on your background and where you came from, it does create bigger class boundaries. Chile is per capita the wealthiest country on the continent, and has seen a lot of progress happen economically in the last 30 years. However, a lot of people are feeling left behind, and there are significant structural issues that need to be dealt with (health and education as I mentioned, minimum wages, pensions and a litany of other cost of living items are issues). The more well off likely need to pay more in taxes into the system, but there seems to be a huge hesitancy amongst them to do so…overall income taxes this are fairly low as top rate here is 35%!((MISSING)a new 40%!b(MISSING)racket is being instituted due to the current situation) - Chile has a progressive system based on salary like Canada. But the structural changes needed, so more people can benefit, will take time to execute and people want the changes now…so it’s hard to say when the protests, at least in their current form, will cease or at least calm down.

So for the time being, it’s a bit of a wait and see. Bottom line though is that we are safe, as are the girls, who for the most part are blissfully unaware of the situation. Life continues with some normalcy, and we are crossing our fingers that things de-escalate instead of going the wrong way.

If you want to get an idea of a bit on the background of Chile and the current system, take a look at this article: - I am still waiting for the next part to be posted, as this only takes us to Pinochet, however thought it was an interesting read about neoliberalism. Chile Today is an English language news website based in Chile, so provides a bit of insight on the current situation as well, although articles are posted a bit sporadically. You can also search for Reuters news in Chile to read up on the day-to-day situation, as one of the reporters we know through our kids and this provides a balanced view of things going on.


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