Culture

Churches Burn as Chileans Mark Anniversary of Historic, Violent Protests

Lead Photo: Masked men burn down a Carabineros church during a protest on October 18, 2020 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
Masked men burn down a Carabineros church during a protest on October 18, 2020 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

Yesterday (Oct. 18), a crowd of Chileans gathered in Santiago to commemorate the anniversary of last year’s historic protests that reached about 25,000. Other cities across the country also held demonstrations to mark the Oct. 18, 2019 event, and not only yesterday, but in the day prior.

More than 30 people died and thousands were injured—most infamously, eye injuries as a result of rubber bullets shot by police, causing the loss of an eye or blindness for many—during protests that maintained potency through December.

Demonstrations began after students hopping turnstiles as a manifestation against a public transit fare increase. An even broader purpose—a better quality of life for all—ultimately led to more intense demonstrations that included rioting and looting.

Yesterday was like a sped-up version of last fall’s events; what began placidly turned fervent by the end of the day with buildings set ablaze, a police headquarters was firebombed and stores looted. The military was again deployed, and tear gas and water cannons were again employed.

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Today Chilean protesters burned down the church of the riot police as well as another church, "Iglesia de la asuncion" in Santiago, on the one year anniversary of the beginning of the popular uprising against the ruling order, neoliberalism, inequality, and ultimately the state. This is the second time the riot police church has been burned during this uprising, and it was currently in the process of being repaired from the first holy barbecue. The revolt began after a 30 peso increase in the transit fare, in the context of massive income inequality and a class of ultra rich people in power, most of whom have been in power since the days of the dictatorship of Pinochet which ended 30 years ago. The initial calls for fare evasion gained popularity and momentum and turned into a full blown rebellion, with militant protests spreading across the nation, often with the 'primera linea' (first line) battling the cops and keeping those in the back safe, clearing streets of riot cops, building massive barricades, and creating a beautiful culture of fierce resistance. There have also been at least 34 protesters killed by the police and military, and over 320 have been intentionally blinded by cops targeting the eyes of protesters, including one man, Gustavo Gatica, who lost both of his eyes to the cops. Their lives and their sacrifices have only intensified the fight against the system. The rebellion continued to build until abruptly, Covid started spreading and the government brought out the military to enforce a quarantine and empty the streets. Recently the revolt has been gaining momentum again, and protesters are back in the streets in force, fighting for a better world. The original caption reads, "The church of the pedophile cops, rapists and assassins of the people, has fallen" Repost @tierna_incertidumbre • • • • • • ha caido la iglesia de los pacos pedofilos, los violadores i asesinos del pueblo 🐁🌻 #30yearsnot30pesos

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The overarching goal for many protestors is to end neoliberal policies that have led to severe income inequality. Minimum wage workers earn what equates approximately to $426 a month in 45-hour weeks.

What Chileans started last fall never really ended, though. (Such is the case for many countries where uprisings have peaked in the past year or two.) When COVID-19 hit, though, President Piñera instituted a strict quarantine that somewhat quelled in-person organizing. But recently protestors have begun to reclaim the streets. Most wore masks.

A constitutional referendum is scheduled for Oct. 25; this was a concession offered by Chile’s government last year as an attempt to assuage protestors. Chileans can vote that day to essentially rewrite the country’s 1980 constitution, created during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Complaints about its neoliberalist leanings, its limits on voter choice and the constraints the document puts on social welfare programs have been a primary concern for many.

Presidential and congressional elections in Chile are scheduled for 2021.