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Violence Plagues Chile in Annual Riots

By: Joel Fensch - Sep 15, 2013, 11:20 pm

Violent riots on September 11 have become somewhat of a ritual in Chile, with participants looting businesses, throwing rocks at police officers, and making general mayhem the order of the day.

Forty years ago, Chile went through a violent coup, as the military deposed the Marxist president, Salvador Allende, when he created a constitutional crisis in the country and ignored the judicial branch. His rapid implementation of Marxist policies had also drastically damaged the economy.

Widespread disaffection led to a coup d’état on September 11, 1973, and 17 years of military rule under General Augusto Pinochet.

Last week, during clashes on the anniversary of Allende’s overthrow, rioters injured at least 42 police officers — who in turn arrested an estimated 264 rioters. Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, made a statement on September 12, insisting that “there is no justification for the violence we witnessed last night.”

Copycat riots have become an annual headache for the Andean nation. Last year, for example, similar violence resulted in 255 arrests and 26 injured police officers. Even worse, looters reportedly shot and killed a policeman named Cristian Martinez while he attempted to protect a supermarket.

The widespread damage this year forced the police department to deploy approximately 8,000 of Chile’s carabineros (police officers) in Santiago alone. In addition to an acid attack on an officer and six police officers left in serious condition from the violence, there were reports of widespread looting. Rioters also set cars and buses on fire and, by throwing chains on power lines, caused power outages for an estimated 200,000 people in 25 separate regions of Santiago.

While a majority of the violence has historically been in Santiago, the nation’s largest city, the protests are not confined to the capital. They also occur in pockets across the country — including Antofagasta, Iquique, and La Serena in the north, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar on the Pacific coast, and Temuco and Concepción in the south. Chile has a population of over 17 million, but one third reside in the Santiago metro region, home to approximately 6 million individuals.

Despite being one of Latin America’s most developed countries, Chilean authorities have often struggled to contain the violence — and the destruction and carnage from the annual riots frustrates much of the population. Many, including notable politicians, have made pleas for peace and calm.

The president of Chile’s Socialist political party, Osvaldo Andrade, weighed in, saying that “burning buses is not a good way to honor [Chile’s Marxist President] Allende.” He went on to ask that, “commemorations of the 40 years since the coup d’état and the death of Allende be peaceful.”

Additionally, in an editorial published on the government’s website, Piñera observed that three out of every four protesters were minors who hadn’t even been born in 1973. Piñera went on to opine that Chile’s past had already been written. While Chileans can discuss, interpret, and remember it, he continued, Chileans should not remain prisoners of the past — adding that “when the present gets stuck in the past, we lose our future.”

Joel Fensch Joel Fensch

Editor of InsightSur, Fensch covers geopolitical and historical events in Latin America with the PanAm Post.