Chile lawmakers call for social reforms as protests mount
By Dave Sherwood and Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Lawmakers who attended a crisis
summit with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera's ruling
coalition called on Tuesday for reforms to tackle inequality in
response to countrywide riots that sowed chaos in the South
American nation and led to 15 deaths and the arrest of more than
Frustrations over the high cost of living and metro fare
hikes in Santiago have become a political flashpoint against the
center-right government of Pinera who urged talks with lawmakers
to define a "new social contract."
Almost all of the key left-leaning opposition parties
rejected the invitation to talks until Pinera showed proof of
safeguarding the human rights of protesters amid reports of
heavy-handedness by security forces during a weekend of riots.
Members of Pinera's coalition and a handful of opposition
figures who did attend the talks told reporters they had pushed
for quick and sweeping reforms to quell the unrest and economic
"The president needs to listen to what the people are asking
for, which is profound social change. He must listen to the
people, not just political parties," said former foreign
minister Heraldo Munoz, head of the center-left Democratic Party
Some politicians and protesters pointed to a leaked audio
recording of first lady Cecilia Morel as proof of a disconnect
between Pinera, a billionaire businessman who introduced credit
cards to Chile in the 1980s, and ordinary voters.
"We've been overrun, it's like an alien invasion," Morel
said in the audio, which was confirmed authentic by the
authorities. "We're going to have to cut back on our privileges
and share with the rest of them."
Protesters, still unsatisfied, gathered again in central
squares in Santiago and in other cities on Tuesday as the
demonstrations against inequality showed little sign of ending.
Police in places began to disperse the crowds with gas and water
canons. The protests were bigger than demonstrations on Monday.
Ten cities have been placed in a state of emergency and
under a night curfew overseen by the military after riots broke
out on Friday in the worst unrest in decades in one of Latin
America's most stable countries. The curfew was confirmed again
for Tuesday night.
Rioters destroyed much of Santiago's metro system, among the
region's most modern and extensive, causing upwards of $200
million in damages. Vandals looted hundreds of grocery stores,
homes, hospitals, and government buildings throughout the
country, leaving widespread wreckage in once subdued cities.
"NOTHING TO HIDE"
Amnesty International on Tuesday said in an open letter to
Pinera that it was concerned over human rights violations, and
limitations imposed by the military during city-wide evening
"The sole fact that some groups or people have committed
acts of violence in a protest does not authorize security forces
to dissolve them with the use of force," Amnesty International
Americas director Erika Guevara said.
The military general in charge of security in Santiago said
he was aware of videos circulating on social media suggesting
brutality by police or the military in dealing with protesters
"We are investigating every one of these situations. We're
not going to hide anything," General Javier Iturriaga told
Interior ministry sub-secretary Rodrigo Ubilla initially
declined to identify the 15 people killed since last Friday, but
the national prosecutor's office later named seven of the
In a heated exchange with reporters, he said 11 people had
died in arson attempts, looting and rioting in Santiago, while
two people had died of gunshot wounds. Two others died in
vehicle-related accidents, one outside of Santiago and one,
further south, in the port city of Talcahuano.
The Chilean Institute for Human Rights said by Monday night
it had registered 84 people injured by firearms.
U.N. human rights boss Michelle Bachelet, a former president
of Chile, called on Monday for independent investigations into
the deaths in weekend protests, citing "disturbing allegations"
of excessive use of force by security forces.
The widespread protests sowed destruction across the city.
Street cleaners and working parties of volunteers on Tuesday
struggled to tidy and repair Santiago's central Plaza Italia,
the focal point of much of the unrest, was littered with broken
glass and stone, graffiti and still-smoldering fires.
By mid-day, protests had resumed anew there.
Many downtown streets still reeked of tear gas, and the
majority of schools across the city remained closed on Tuesday.
Traffic and public transportation were snarled across the city
during the morning rush hour.
Roxana Yanez, 56, a factory worker, said she had had a
"On the one hand, we support these protests. We don't earn
much, just enough to pay our bus fare," she said. "What we don't
support is disorder, riots, looting. That doesn't help."
The protests were sparked by an increase in public transport
fares in early October. But they reflect simmering anger over
intense economic inequality in Chile, as well as costly health,
education and pension systems seen by many as inadequate.
"This won’t stop until people see real change," said Brandon
Rodriguez, 25, a security guard. "Governments of the left and
right have come and gone...but nothing changes for ordinary
The unrest has yet to dock copper output in Chile, the
world's top producer, mining officials said.
Workers at BHP's Escondida copper mine, the world's largest,
nonetheless initiated a five-hour strike Tuesday morning, union
officials told Reuters.
At Santiago's international airport, many passengers were
stranded after hundreds of flights were canceled by major
airlines over several days and airlines laid out camp beds on
the airport forecourt to accommodate them.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, additional reporting by Aislinn
Laing and Natalia Ramos
Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alistair Bell)
First Published: 2019-10-22 04:00:39
Updated 2019-10-22 22:38:30
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