The Chilean government on Monday threatened to invoke a state security law to penalize striking truck drivers blocking arterial routes and damaging supply chains after talks between the two sides broke down.
Chile’s interior minister Victor Perez said the government had made a “serious and all-encompassing” offer of greater security for the industry, without giving further details.
Truckers are on their fifth day of strike action over violence in the country’s south and want a raft of law and order bills fast-tracked through congress.
“We believe the rejection of this proposal is a mistake, since they promised a peaceful demonstration that unfortunately has given rise to instances of supply chain interruption and road blockades,” Perez said.
The state security law is invoked during public protests or mobilizations and allows penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment for those who threaten state security.
The truckers, backed by some agricultural and logging unions, are protesting over a spike in attacks on transport trucks and factories in recent months in and around the southern Araucania, a south-central region of Chile that has long been convulsed by a simmering conflict between the indigenous Mapuche and the Chilean government.
The strike is being led by the Confederation of Chilean Cargo Transport (CNTC), one of the country’s three main truckers unions.
Jose Villagran, the CNTC’s vice-president, told local media on Monday the government had offered “crumbs” and he wanted to negotiate with interior minister Perez directly.
“We truckers don’t want crumbs,” he said, according to Mega Noticias news site. “We work on the highways, we have a lot of stamina, I don’t think the government is able to hold out for longer than we can.”
Earlier on Monday, Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker said two of the country’s 16 regions were experiencing supply chain problems, while access had slowed to San Antonio port, one of the two biggest in the fruit, salmon and copper-exporting nation.
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