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Demonstrators say large troop presence is like Pinochet Era: NPR



A Chilean military convoy patrols the streets of the capital Santiago on the fourth day of turmoil on Tuesday.

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Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A Chilean military convoy patrols the streets of the capital Santiago on the fourth day of turmoil on Tuesday.

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Students and workers have continued to walk the streets this week in Santiago and other parts of Chile, in large-scale protests and planned union strikes against economic inequality in the South American country.

The demonstrations began on October 14, when the crowds of students refused to pay the latest increase in metro assets by storming various stations and skipping turnstiles in Chile's capital. Last Friday, what was largely peaceful protocols gave way to violence, destruction and looting, in which at least 15 people have died, according to officials.

President Sebastián Piñera quickly interrupted the modest subway walk and on Monday, he proposed a new "social contract" that would benefit all Chileans. This has so far failed to stop one of Chile's largest public upheavals in a decade. The conservative president's sharp initial reaction – declaring "we are at war with a powerful enemy" and deploying the military to bring order – has raised further concerns.

Protesters say the troop's presence in the streets triggers painful memories of the country's 17-year military dictatorship that ended in 1990. Thousands of Chileans were imprisoned, tortured or killed by General Augusto Pinochet's regime.

"It was like a slap in the face to us all," says protester Paz Lagos, 54. "This story is still alive and we have not forgotten what happened when the military took over the streets. It was a very difficult time – many died. We don't want the same thing here. "

The rich 10%

Protesters are angry that many Chileans have been left behind in the country's economic development. Although total poverty has declined since the 1990s, the top 10% of those earning 26.5 times their average income earn, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD says that Chile is one of its most unequal member countries.

Riot police shoot tear gas and water cannons at a crowd of protesters in downtown Santiago on Monday.

Paige Sutherland for NPR


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Paige Sutherland for NPR

The riot police shoot tear gas and water cannons at a crowd of protesters in downtown Santiago on Monday.

Paige Sutherland for NPR

President Piñera has been widely criticized for having dinner with his family Friday night in a rich part of the city while protests raged. According to Forbes, the former businessman has a net worth of about $ 2.8 billion.

The scenes of unrest and armed forces have been fantastic in a country that is often regarded as one of Latin America's most peaceful and stable democracies.

Most of 15 deaths occurred during fires set on looting, officials say. Interior Deputy Minister Rodrigo Ubilla said on Tuesday that a few people were killed in the hands of security officials and that the incident is under investigation.

About 10,500 police and soldiers are deployed in Santiago, according to Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick.

Troops seem to be everywhere: metro stations, major squares, shopping malls and entire streets.

The military police stand in a supermarket when customers buy groceries in Santiago on Monday.

Luis Hidalgo / AP


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Luis Hidalgo / AP

The military police stand guard at a supermarket when customers buy groceries in Santiago on Monday.

Luis Hidalgo / AP

During one of the protests on Monday, police wearing tear gas and water cannons fired guns to disperse protests. Many of the protesters refused to drive with signs that read "They even took fear away from us."

As of late Monday, more than 1,500 people were arrested in recent days by protests, the interior minister told reporters.

On top of the strong military presence, three nights of curfew and long lines at the few open supermarkets have led many Chileans to say that it is reminiscent of the dictatorship.

"Not at war"

When President Piñera referred to the violence and destruction on Sunday by saying "We are at war," it raged protesters. Many have taken signs all over the city and read "We are not at war, we are united."

Protester Rosa Hueraleo, 56, denies that there is a "war" and emphasizes that most Chileans do not support violence.

"The president offers no solutions – all he does is criminalize the movement no more," she says. "Although the metro price is off, it is not enough – we want better education, health care, higher wages."

As part of his call for a "social contract" on Monday, Piñera said he is working on proposals with party leaders to improve jobs, wages and pensions, lower drug prices and better public services.

Thousands of protesters gathered at Santiago's Plaza Italia, demanding more investment in public education, health care and pensions.

Paige Sutherland for NPR


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Thousands of protesters gathered at Santiago's Plaza Italia, demanding more investment in public education, health care and pensions.

Paige Sutherland for NPR

He also announced that the 4% increase for the subway is officially reversed. But if the leader thinks the modest price cut is sufficient, Hueraleo says, it shows that he is unable to understand what the people really want.

Damage to the metro system alone has reached $ 300 million, according to Metro President Louis De Grange

Most of the subway system is expected to close during the week, the government said. So far this week in Santiago, classes have been canceled and only limited stores and supermarkets have been open.

Javier Aguilo, 25, says he plans to protest all week until things change.

"There are two Chiles here," he says. "The one where people go to beautiful schools, have nice homes, can go on vacation anywhere, and then there are other Chile where people have to live with $ 500 a month and pay for food with credit."

These protests come just weeks before the city will host two major international conferences. Meetings in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Group, or APEC, will be held in mid-November and the UN Climate Conference, COP25, is in December.

Aguilo says he is happy that the world will finally be able to see the real Chile, and not the perfect one that the President has sold abroad.


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