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When the pots pounded endlessly on Sunday, October 20, after 48 hours of intense protest, it was common for protesters to ironically recall President Piñera’s words about Chile being an oasis in South America. “His oasis turned to ashes.” They said, pointing to the barricade fire.

Until last week his center-right government boasted of a stability and bonanza that neighboring countries, such as Ecuador, passed away. However, the increase in the passage of public transport was enough for everything to collapse overnight. Focus of isolated and peaceful protests began in Santiago, directed mainly by the students. Last Friday, a major act was harshly repressed in the Plaza Italia region of the city center. Government and press sought to blame the protesters. However, it was common in bars, bookstores, and cafes to find people outraged by this version of the facts.

It wasn’t long before the answer came. Radical groups of young people occupied the subway, there were tough clashes in 41 stations. In the streets, spontaneous mobilizations of solidarity spread. Just two, three young people stopped at a corner, banging pots, and supporters came out to the windows with more pots. Soon a barricade was erected, then a bonfire, and a crowd gathered, including drivers in the cars sympathetic. As soon as the police arrived with water jets and tear gas, the nucleus dispersed, splitting and gathering in new, more barricaded streets. This tactic has been seen throughout major Santiago and in major cities of the country, such as Valparaiso. Plaza Italia has become a symbol of resistance, with protesters bravely facing the police, resisting harsh repression.

What we see in the press is only the image of the conflicts and the description of the protesters as vandals. This is absolutely false. I traveled to various parts of the city and there is a huge popular adhesion (including children and elderly) to peaceful acts. The most radicalized actions are the exception, although tolerated by the bulk of the protesters. And why is that? With the people I spoke to, it is unanimous that they are all fed up, that the greatest violence is that of government, businessmen, and seeing profits from copper and banks increase while the population impoverishes.

On Saturday, Piñera found himself on the ropes, said he had humbly accepted the protesters’ claim and revoked the increase, in return, condemned what he called vandals and summoned the army, which had not been on the streets for 40 years, since the dictatorship. Pinochet, a bitter memory for Chileans. Also instituted the curfew from 8pm to 7am. Such measures were classified as unacceptable by the protesters, and so the protests followed. The governor of the province of Santiago went on television and repeated Piñera’s speech against the “vandals” in favor of the poor and the “Chilean family” – clearly seeking to divide popular support for the acts – but had, in the end, to admit that “the anger was legitimate, it didn’t come from today and it was against us all.” In a grotesque show Piñera returned to TV surrounded by uniformed soldiers, in a closed room, as if in a bunker, said to be “at war”, it only remained to say against whom.

This weekend curfew persists, as do the military in the streets. The people, in turn, give no sign that they will give up. The demonstrations began to take on another focus: “outside Piñera”, “the military return to the barracks” and “Constituent Assembly”. It is difficult to say what the next moves of this spectacular popular uprising will be, but undoubtedly witness the strength and willingness of the Chilean people to fight, their capacity for self-organization and resistance. A lesson that hopefully sooner or later crosses the great mountain range and reaches this side of South America.


Alexandre Benoit is a teacher and an architect. He traveled to Santiago on the occasion of the 21st Chilean Architecture Biennial.

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