Citizens protested on the streets of 27 Chilean cities on Saturday. The demonstrations were strategically planned to coincide with President Sebastián Piñera’s annual May 21 speech. In many areas, peaceful demonstrations morphed into violent riots.
The most dramatic scene of protest was Valparaíso, where Piñera gave his May 21 address. Although official figures put numbers at between 6,000 and 7,000, organizers of the march reported some 15,000 Chileans united in the port town to call for change. Tensions rose throughout the day and masked protestors used rocks and signs to pellet police and smash store windows.
City officials estimated that the fights caused damage to private and public property totalling approximately 65,000 US dollars. Twenty-two people (12 civilians), were injured in the clashes. These acts stand in stark contrast to the peaceful tactics adopted by anti-HidroAysén group Patagonia Without Dams.
Chilean news outlets also reported eccentric acts of protests like the burning of a state flag. Student activist Waldo Aguirre Morales (23) drew attention in Valparaiso when he burst through police barriers, stripped off his clothes, and ran down Avenida Pedro Montt. Aguirre was among the 70 protestors that police arrested on Saturday. Police charged 68 of the detainees with disorderly conduct, two with looting. Regional Governor of Valparaíso, Raúl Celis, described the day’s events as a “carnival of crime”.
Tensions in other parts of Chile were high as well. In Concepción, 5,000 people marched in a demonstration and 19 protestors were detained. In Santiago, about 1,500 people gathered for protest activities in the capital’s west end next to the San Pablo Metro station, and large crowds turned riotous in Plaza Italia. In Concepción, protesters damaged public property in their march from the Plaza de la Independencia to Plaza Perú. There were also reports of police clashes with protestors in Temuco, Rancagua and Punta Arenas. An estimated 2,000 protesters marched in Puerto Montt.
Immediately after Piñera’s speech, the president’s son Cristobal Piñera spoke with La Nación about the protests. “I think there are good ways to protest, such as what we saw yesterday at the peaceful protests to HidroAysén, except for those who advocate violence.” Cristobal also made headlines on Saturday when he announced his opposition to HidroAysén on Twitter.
By Erin Allen – The Santiago Times