Rioting, arson attacks and violent clashes wracked Chile for a fifth day Tuesday, as the government declared 15 people dead in an upheaval that has nearly paralyzed the South American country long seen as one of the region’s most stable.
About half of Chile’s 16 regions remained under an emergency decree Tuesday, and some were under military curfew — the first, other than for natural disasters, that’s been imposed since the country returned to democracy in 1990 following a bloody 17-year dictatorship. The unrest began last week when a relatively minor, less-than-4% rise in subway fares led to students jumping station turnstiles in protest. But the defiance exploded into violence on Friday as demonstrators set fire to subway stations, buses and a high-rise building. Demonstrations escalated over the weekend, with protesters demanding wide-ranging improvements in education, health care and wages. The protests are fueled by frustration from Chileans who feel they have not shared in the economic advances in one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations.
Chile has one of the region’s highest rates of inequality: Many Chilean families earn $550 to $700 a month, and pensions can be as low as $159. “I fight so that all that will end and so that all of us will have something fair,” José Tomás López, a cook, told The Associated Press. He said he took to the streets “because I’ve seen how my mother lives, with a salary of not more than [$700 a month] to maintain my three siblings, and I know her debts and all her efforts to meet them.” Riot police used tear gas and water cannons Tuesday to break up marches by rock-throwing demonstrators in several parts of Santiago, while soldiers and police guarded other Chileans who formed long lines at supermarkets. “I’ve walked several kilometers searching for milk, but the supermarkets remain closed and neighborhood stores have run out,” Carmen Fuentealba, a retiree, told AP.Many stores, subway stations and banks were burned, damaged or looted during protests over the weekend. Some people have reported problems getting cash at ATMs. “It’s enough with this,” store owner Fernando García told AP. “They want to destroy it all. I don’t sleep at night because I fear that they’ll loot.”