SANTIAGO, Oct. 21 (Reuters) – Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said the country is “at war against a powerful enemy” after a weekend of protests that left at least seven dead, heavy losses and movement restrictions to the civilian population which spread to several regions of the country.
Despite their calls for dialogue to build agreements around the demands raised in the demonstrations, the looting and barricades did not cease during the early hours of Monday, when a curfew with military and armored vehicles on the streets prevailed.
Early on Monday, the streets of downtown Santiago were plagued with remains of charred barricades and rubble along with a pungent smell of smoke and tear gas, while citizens tried to resume part of the routine looking for transportation.
«We are at war against a powerful, relentless enemy, who does not respect anything or anyone, who is willing to use violence and crime without any limit, even when it means loss of human lives,» the president said in reference to vandalism, in a statement to the press late Sunday.
However, General Javier Iturriaga, in charge of guarding the capital under a state of emergency and who has the power to restrict the freedom of movement to citizens, said flatly on Monday that «he is not at war with anyone.»
The capital of Chile, a country mentioned as an example of economic and political stability in Latin America, had not been under curfew for more than 30 years, when the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet was still in force.
The state of emergency was extended to four more regions, in addition to the Metropolitan where Santiago is, where looting and fire were also recorded.
The Chilean president stepped back on Saturday as he triggered the protests, an increase in the price of underground transport, but protesters realized in their banners and shouts a series of long-standing structural demands on health, education and pensions, in a country with high indicators of inequality.
Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said Sunday that there were seven dead, although previously different authorities reported the death of three people in fires in looted premises and five people in a fire in an underwear cellar. He did not give a detail of the list of fatalities.
The social outbreak and the waves of subsequent looting occur weeks before Chile is the seat of a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders (APEC) in which US President Donald Trump and Chinese Xi Jinping would sign an important agreement.