Chile: An exhausted country plunged into chaos

Chile: An exhausted country plunged into chaos
Chile: An exhausted country plunged into chaos
  • Chile is witnessing vandalism, crime and even terrorism and the country has been plunged into chaos.
  • Protestors appear dissatisfied by the president’s offer of a vote to change the constitution. 
  • The economy is set to suffer a decline.

Many Chilean cities have not seen a day of calm for months. A movement that started as a protest against the government has turned into a wave of vandalism, crime, and even terrorism that has shaken cities across the country since the middle of the year.

The situation was already taking a toll on people across the country even before the violence spiked again this week.

“Three days ago, I didn’t have bread at home, because there were no staples,” a shop owner at Santiago’s central train station told a local TV news outlet. She was in tears.

“There’s no capital. I lost all my capital, because my shop had to be closed, opened, closed, opened. I lost everything, that’s how I am now,” she complained and added that she does not have a single peso in her pockets.

Across Santiago, the capital of the country, barricades of burning tires have become a regular sight. Similar barricades can be found in the cities of Valparaiso or Antofagasta, just to mention a few. Residents of those cities have grown accustomed to them.

Makeshift detours have been appearing on the streets and protesters have taken to charging illegal tolls by coercing drivers that want to use the detours. Complains on social media about these illegal tolls have become common.

Last week, a resident of Santiago ran over a hooded individual manning one of these illegal extortion barricades. The person was preventing vehicles from passing if they did not pay the toll. The car driver then took matters in his own hands.

Anarchy reigns in Chile

The combination of protests and lawlessness have overwhelmed the capacity of police to deal with them.

The government of President Sebastian Piñera says 5,000 police officers have been injured since the protests began in October 2019.

“There have been clashes between the police and people willing to kill, literally,” Piñera said during a televised statement earlier this week.

As part of an effort to end the protests, Piñera suggested the option of holding a vote to change the constitution of the country, but instead of calm that concession led to more division.

Chile goes to the polls on April 26 and will cast a vote to decide whether to change the constitution introduced by military dictator General Augusto Pinochet in 1980 and ratified by a plebiscite that same year.

Ahead of the vote, cities continue to burn and people are stocking up with provisions ahead of the elections. Many know that the unrest will continue and have already stockpiled food, water and other necessities for the weeks ahead, while buildings continue to be set aflame.

As the government attempts to deal with protesters, hard-liners like former presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast, who leads the new right-leaning Acción Republicana party, have called on the government to step in and reinstate order in the country as soon as possible.

“A country where the bus system cannot operate because there are no road safety conditionsâ, is a country where public order is irregular and its rule of law is weak. We need a president and a government to live up to the challenges that Chile requires today,” he tweeted on March 2.

Public transportation in the country has been disrupted by vandalism. The retail sector is paying the price and the economy of the country, once the brightest in the region, has been deeply wounded by the crisis.

“The maintenance of public order and the end of violence in the streets is essential for the economy to continue on a path of expansion in the coming quarters, it is a necessary condition,” said Minister of Economy Ignacio Briones.

Chile’s economy grew at just 1.5% in January, the best performance since the social unrest started. The country’s economy likely grew by just 1.2% through 2019, half of the 2.5% that had been projected before the protests started in October 2019.

The International Monetary Fund expects the country’s economy to grow just 1% in 2020 following a sharp decline in late 2019.

“In Chile, the outlook is subject to uncertainty resulting from social unrest and the evolving policy responses to the social demands,” noted the IMF.