Over the weekend, Santiago Mayor Conservative Pablo Zalaquett made it clear that if the violence and destruction associated with student protests continues to escalate, intervention of Chile’s Armed Forces may be necessary.
The controversial statement was made during an interview with Chilean daily La Tercera on Sunday, in which the reporter pondered on rumours that student demonstrations could go on until Sept. 11, the anniversary of the 1973 coup d’etat which put Gen. Augusto Pinochet in power for 17 years.
“If this doesn’t stop before the 11th--and I have a feeling that it won’t, it will be very hard. The Interior Minister and the specialized government bodies will have to gauge this,” Mayor Zalaquett said.
“If they see that these (protests) still present a high level of risk, it’s very simple: they will have to see if the police force is capable of handling it. If that is not the case, then they’ll have to seek the help of the Armed Forces”.
The statement was met with criticism from left and right.
“You can see that there have been many threats uttered, none of which have scared people” said Dep. Guillermo Tellier, president of the Chilean Communist Party. “And in the context of this latest threat to bring in the military, I don’t think the military is in that game. Someone should answer as to whether they are ready for that.”
Likewise, Dep. Cristián Monckeberg, president of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) rejected the Santiago mayor’s statements.
“Public order these days has a first name and a last name: the government and the Carabineros de Chile,” said Monckeberg to Chilean daily El Mercurio on Monday. “They are the ones called in as needed to maintain public order in the streets.”
In response, Zalaquett said that his comments had been taken out of context and that such a scenario would only be considered if police forces were overwhelmed.
By Ivan Ebergenyi – The Santiago Times