News & resources

Situation Update - Chile

Back to blog

CIVIL UNREST AND VIOLENCE IN CHILE

  • On 7 October, a Santiago Metro fare increase sparked protests that quickly became a general demonstration against income inequality, high costs of living, low wages, healthcare issues, and other social concerns that spread nationwide.

  • Major acts of civil unrest have taken place over the past several weeks, including arson, vandalism, transportation disruptions, and acts of violence causing casualties.

  • The police and military are using heavy-handed crowd dispersal tactics including the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and in some cases live ammunition.

  • As of 28 October, 19 people have been killed, 535 injured, and 2,400 arrested during protests and acts of civil unrest throughout Santiago and the rest of the country.

  • President Sebastian Pinera has asked his cabinet ministers to resign to allow him to restructure his administration.

  • Protesters have called for the writing of a new Constitution.

  • Extensive travel disruptions have resulted as protesters blocked roads and burned metro stations. These actions have also caused flight disruptions because airline personnel have been unable to reach the airport.

Chile-1
Situation

Following a review of transportation costs, the Chilean government announced a 4% increase in Metro fares in Santiago on 6 October. Students responded by initiating a widespread fare-dodging campaign on 7 October. The campaign continued throughout the following week, becoming a protest movement and resulting in Metro station closures and clashes with authorities.

Beginning on 18 October, the protests expanded to focus on broader social issues, as discontent over high costs of living and income inequalities brought thousands to the streets. The protests grew significantly in size and intensity and became more violent. The protesters began to demand  improvements in education, healthcare, and wages as the middle class feels that they have been excluded from the country’s economic rise. Protesters are also asking for a new constitution to be written, as the earlier document is considered a legacy of Chile’s military dictatorship.

On 18 October, large and violent protests erupted in Santiago and began to spread across the country, leading to large numbers of injuries and arrests. At the Estacion Central a woman was shot in the leg by police firing live ammunition. Since 19 October, Chile has experienced numerous demonstrations, including some that have evolved into riots, looting, and arson. Eight people have been killed in arson incidents; 3 at a supermarket and 5 at a textile factory. On 21 October, armed forces killed one protester and wounded three others during a protest in Curico. A protester was also killed after being run over by a military vehicle in Talcahuano. On 22 October, a protester and a child were killed and 17 injured when a driver rammed a crowd blocking his vehicle in San Pedro de La Paz. A day later, police shot and killed a protester in Santiago. As of 28 October, 19 people have been killed during the turmoil, 535 injured, and 2,400 arrested.

The Chilean government has deployed approximately 20,000 military personnel to provide security, conduct patrols, and disperse protests across the country. This is the first time since the rule of General Augusto Pinochet, which ended in 1990, that the military has been used to suppress civil unrest across Chile. On 20 October, President Sebastian Pinera stated in an address to the armed forces that Chile was at war with a “relentless enemy that respects nothing or anyone and is willing to use violence and crime without any limits.” This has led to increased violence and calls for the President’s resignation by protesters. A State of Emergency was issued and/or a curfew implemented earlier for the regions of Valparaiso, Biobio, Coquimbo, Antofagasta, Maule, Los Rios, Magallanes, and O’Higgins, the Province of Concepcion, and the cities of Antofagasta, Coquimbo, Iquique, La Serena, Rancagua, Valdivia, and Santiago. President Pinera lifted the curfew for major cities on 26 October after more than 1 million people gathered to protest the government on 25 October, and the State of Emergency ended at midnight 27 October. The curfew was not being obeyed fully, which led security forces to make thousands of arrests. Clashes between protesters and police and military forces have resulted in at least five killed and several hundreds wounded, many from guns shot wounds. The unrest has drawn international attention and Human Rights Watch has called upon the government to investigate crimes committed by protesters as well as the security forces during the past few weeks.

On 22 October, President Sebastian Pinera apologised for his inflammatory remarks, announced a new socio-economic agenda, and reversed the fare hike. The President claims that his reforms will address many of the issues that ignited the civil unrest and will include pension increases, affordable medical care, and measures to address the high costs of living in the country. He stated that he will raise the minimum wage and will increase taxes on the upper class. The apology and proposed reforms failed to stop the protests as demonstrators are demanding action instead of promises and continue to call for Pinera’s resignation. On 26 October, the President asked his cabinet ministers to resign in response to the social demands of the people.

Business continuity and transportation have been significantly impacted as a result of the demonstrations. Roadblocks have been reported on major roadways resulting in travel delays. Santiago Metro stations have been intermittently closed due to arson attacks and vandalism, with 75 percent suffering damage or destruction. More than 1,400 passengers were affected by hundreds of flight cancellations at Santiago International Airport from 20-22 October because protests prevented airline personnel from reaching the airport.  Demonstrators have also damaged, looted, or burned dozens of gas stations.

Implications

Further protests, strikes, and civil unrest are likely to occur across the country until decisive action is taken to address economic concerns in Chile. Pinera’s proposed reforms have not prevented further civil unrest and the violence is only likely to subside after significant policies have been implemented. However, implementation of these policies may not completely quell the unrest as protesters have also begun to call for the President Pinera’s resignation. The lack of clear leadership amongst the protesters will make deciding who will participate in negotiations with the government difficult and the wide range of grievances among the protesters will further complicate negotiations. Left leaning politicians have also refused negotiation attempts while the armed forces are patrolling the streets, as historically in Chile the military has been used to suppress the people.

Following the public apology, proposed social reforms, previous curfew, and international spotlight on the casualties caused by protests, there has been a decrease in acts of violence by demonstrators. However, security forces have increased their crackdown on protesters and continue to use live ammunition.

The civil unrest is not expected to cease in the near future and is likely to continue to impact travel and business continuity. Protesters are likely to continue to target transportation hubs and networks as they have been focal points throughout the unrest. Due to the severe disruptions to the public transportation network, more citizens are driving, causing long lines at fuelling stations. There have been no reports of fuel shortages, but shortages remain possible due to the number of citizens requiring fuel and roadways being severely disrupted during demonstrations. A shortage is highly likely if petrol transportation drivers decide to strike. Many businesses remain closed and only limited public services are available. Chilean businesses have reported approximately 1.4 billion dollars in losses and hundreds of businesses have been burned or looted. As the protests continue, additional damage and disruption is likely to occur, further harming the country’s economy.

Protesters are likely to take advantage of the upcoming APEC and UN Climate Change summits taking place in Santiago in November and December to draw attention and support for their cause. Attempts to disrupt the events are likely to occur unless the government reaches an agreement with protesters. The government is likely to continue to aggressively use security forces to suppress protests during the event.

Advice
  • Monitor local news sources for updates regarding civil unrest.

  • Avoid all large gatherings due to the likelihood for violence to erupt between police and protesters.

  • In the event of a protest, remain indoors and identify the nearest egress point.

  • If movement is necessary, use private pre-arranged transportation as public transportation has been severely affected and regularly targeted for protests.

  • Keep proper identification and travel documents in order in the event of a security check by military or police.

  • Remain indoors overnight due to the increased likelihood of violence and unrest during the overnight hours.

  • Follow the commands of authorities and avoid their operations.

  • Ensure that if travel to Chile is necessary, adequate personal security measures are in place.

  • Expect heightened security at government buildings and protest hotspots, especially during the upcoming summits.