Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Chile on Monday to mark the second anniversary of the inequality protests that sparked the rewrite of the constitution.
More than 30 people have died in the unrest following the October 2019 protests as the government of right-wing President Sebastian Pinera has come under fire for a sometimes brutal response from the security forces, including some rights violations.
Thousands of protesters gathered in the capital Santiago and other cities to mark the occasion and renew their calls for greater social justice.
In Santiago’s main street La Alameda, shops and businesses closed hours earlier and rolled down metal shutters to protect their premises from possible vandalism.
“Not much has changed but people are more alert, more ready to raise their voices,” Valentina Sagrado, a 22-year-old psychoeducational student, told AFP.
As in 2019, the majority of protesters were young and chanted anti-government slogans as they walked past the presidential palace towards Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the movement two years ago.
The authorities removed the traffic lights and the trash cans from the square to prevent them from being vandalized.
Hooded individuals set fire to barriers, AFP journalists noted, with security forces using tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.
The initial 2019 protest was initially sparked by an increase in metro fares.
The unrest that followed left 34 people dead and 460 people injured in their eyes, some of whom lost their sight, as a result of the pellets and tear gas fired by the police.
“Things are on hold, we must move forward with a new constitution, which is why people are protesting,” hairdresser Pablo, 22, who did not give his last name, told AFP.
– ‘Symbolic day’ –
At least 5,000 police have been deployed across the country to maintain order, local press reported.
Protesters demand universal health care, free and improved schooling and higher pensions.
One of the main targets of the protests in 2019 was the constitution implemented during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-90).
On Monday, the constituent assembly elected to rewrite the constitution began its work after a 100-day period during which it established its rules of procedure.
The 155-member assembly is led by an indigenous woman and dominated by independents not aligned with the main Chilean political parties.
The hope of millions of leftists and the working class is the end of the neoliberal model that has been supported by the right, the conservatives and the business world.
Chile’s neoliberal policies have been credited with making the country one of the richest and most stable in the region, but at the same time the gap between rich and poor has widened.
“It is a symbolic day, a day that Chile and the citizens have won together,” said Elisa Loncon, President of the Assembly.
“We need to embrace profound changes to achieve a new constitution in a democratic manner. “
But for Sebastian Sichel, the presidential candidate of Pinera’s ruling party, there is nothing to celebrate.
“October 18, 2019 is a day that should be painful for all of us, not a commemoration or celebration. It is the failure of the political class and violent people have taken over the agenda because the political class has not been able to solve the urgent problems, ”says Sichel.
Chile will go to the polls on November 21 for a general election with a possible run-off four weeks later to decide on the new president, who will take office in March.
© 2021 AFP