Chile is “at war”, President Sebastian Pinera said Sunday, as the country reels from three days of violent demonstrations and looting that have left 11 dead and almost 1,500 detained in the worst outbreak of social unrest in decades.
“We are at war against a powerful, implacable enemy, who does not respect anything or anyone and is willing to use violence and crime without any limits,” Pinera told reporters after an emergency meeting with army general Javier Iturriaga, who has been placed in charge of order and security in the capital.
Santiago and nine other of Chile’s 16 regions were under a state of emergency, Pinera confirmed late Sunday, with troops deployed onto the streets for the first time since Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship between 1973-1990.
The clashes, which have seen some 9,500 police and military fire tear gas and water cannon against protesters who have set fire to buses, smashed up metro stations and ransacked shops, were sparked by anger over price hikes and social inequality.
Despite a growth rate that should reach 2.5 percent of GDP this year, several social indicators -- such as health, education and pensions -- show very high inequalities.
“Many latent requests have not been answered, tension has built up, frustration has increased daily in daily life,” said Octavio Avendano, a sociologist and political scientist at the University of Chile.
This anger boiled over earlier in the week as a protest against a rise in metro fares escalated dramatically on Friday.