Protests in Valparaiso, Chile

Wikipedia has already posted an article about the protests in Chile this week. Have a look for the background (and the photos).

Because of the curfew (from about 6 pm to 5 am every night) and the closure of business, Valparaiso (“Valpo,” as the locals call it) is the quietest big city I’ve ever seen. There is very little traffic save buses during the day and few pedestrians. EVERYTHING disappears at night; the stray dogs are apparently the only mammals exempt from the curfew.

During the day, armed soldiers and police, both men and women, roam the streets with semiautomatic weapons and full riot gear. Here’s a shopping center near the port where a guard limits the number of people who can enter at one time. This is surely to prevent the accumulation of protestors who could riot and loot. (I’m told that looting, which seems counterproductive to a cause, is often a feature of South American protests, and that even some well-off people engage in it.)

Here’s a protest in the streets yesterday. My poor Spanish translates the banner as “workers of the culture in Huelca”, though I don’t know what that denotes. This one was peaceful, with only a few police in attendance. The marchers bang utensils on pans (“cacerolazo“), a feature of protests in South America.

Here’s a video I took of the protest. Those without pots to bang clap their hands.

The death toll in Chile appears to be 18 so far, with some of the dead being looters killed in burning stores, but others shot by police. Two days ago (see Wikipedia article) a driver rammed his car into protestors, killing two (including a four-year old) and wounding 17. There may have been other deaths as some videos on Twitter show bodies being stacked up.

The protests are into their sixth straight day in the capital of Santiago, and have spread to several large cities in Chile. Despite President Sebastian Pinera having withdrawn the public-transportation fare hikes that started the protest, and having apologized to the people and promised reform, public tempers are still hot and protests continue. From CNN:

In a national televised address Tuesday night, Pinera apologized for “decades” of accumulated problems and announced a new social and economic agenda in the wake of the deadly unrest.

“It’s true — problems have not occurred in recent days. They have been accumulating for decades,” he said of the South American country of 18 million people.

The President promised social and economic reforms to tackle issues at the heart of the unrest, including pension raises, affordable medical insurance, lowering the prices of medicines and stabilizing electricity prices.

We saw more heated protests near the sea yesterday. Some scenes from that:

Here a crowd of people, mostly young people, are jammed up against a building, which appeared to be a supermarket whose windows had been broken. If you look closely at the left, near the corrugated metal door, you will see police helmets. The crowd has jammed the police up against the door.

Here are the three police surrounded by an angry, taunting mob. Fortunately, the protestors didn’t assault the police, for god knows what would have happened then. There has been tear gas fired and rubber bullets shot, which seem to do more damage to the body than I would have thought.

I approached the scene to see how the police were reacting to the crowd and their taunting. They remained peaceful. I suspect they were there to keep looters out of the store. Grocery stores seem to be a particular target of looters.

Many of the police are women:

A woman police officer in full riot gear. I think the mask is there to block her nose and mouth from inhaling tear gas.

Three police guarding the other side of the store. Clearly tear gas had been fired, as during this melee my throat and nose began to burn. Many protestors were wearing masks against the gas.

And so the protests continue. I am trapped in my hotel after 6 pm each night, and of course sightseeing is impeded since many places are closed. More reports later, but tomorrow I’ll show some pictures of this beautiful city, famous for its street art.


  1. Julian Cattaneo
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    It’s “en huelga”, i.e. “on strike”
    “Culture workers” are artists, actors, writers etc

    • TJR
      Posted October 24, 2019 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      “You’ll have a national philosophers’ strike on your hands!”

      “And who will that inconvenience?”

      Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  2. Michael Fisher
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    BANNER: “Trabajadors de la cultura en huelga

    “Striking culture workers
    hashtag we are not at war”

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    It seems the natives are restless in many parts of South America these days. Nothing new really. In Venezuela, Peru, Equator and now Chile, the politics in power are not well received and may be replaced. Kind of sounds like North America only without the riots at least not yet. The only rioting we have is in the halls of congress.

  4. BJ
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    The protests in Chile are a bit confusing to me. I know why they’re happening, but Chile just seems like the least likely suspect in the region. Fifteen years ago South America was my area of study for two years. Last I checked (must more recently than 15 years ago), Chile had the most well-managed economy, highest GDP per capita, etc. etc. in all of South America (except for maybe, like, French Guiana…? Which doesn’t really count. It’s French Guiana. Nobody thinks about them). I can see this kind of thing happening in Brazil, Bolivia, but I just don’t get it with Chile. Have I missed something? Has there been a sudden and very extreme spike in inequality in the last three years? I haven’t exactly kept up with my studies in that time. Brazil has been in a tailspin (hence Bolsonaro), Bolivia is, well, the powder-keg of Bolivia…but Chile?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      As best I have seen or read it is inequality as much as anything. Just like here. My understanding is the current leader in Chile is very rich. He has also been pretty much unaware of how the people are doing. So now with rioting and tear gas he is maybe learning?

      • Frank Bath
        Posted October 24, 2019 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        The Financial Times today suggests it is not inequality that is the problem, people don’t mind outcome as long as everybody has the opportunity to get there. Fairness in brief.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 24, 2019 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Costs of living and inequality. The riots started when metro prices were raised so that must mean that people are really stretched to riot over that. Sad to see people treated that way and I wonder if it will happen in North America too one day with the cost of living increasing and wages not rising to keep up while the divide between the rich and poor increases.

      • BJ
        Posted October 24, 2019 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        I get why it’s happening, but I don’t get why Chile is one of the first dominoes to fall. Chile is one of the most unequal countries, but the average wage there is still higher than in nearly every country in the region. Sometimes something small like a metro price hike can set off a powder keg, but, usually, such powder kegs don’t build in a country like Chile, despite the inequality. When people have mostly comfortable living standards, as most Chileans do (and as most US citizens do, which is why their inequality doesn’t lead to riots), people don’t tend to riot. People usually are content to hold onto good living standards even if the people above them on the charts are way ahead.

        Mexico, one of the other most unequal countries, makes more sense for something like this, as they have lower living standards, average wages, and about the same inequality. It seems like it’s Chile’s middle class that’s rioting, and that’s what’s confusing me.

        • BJ
          Posted October 24, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          Sorry, that should say that Mexico has lower living standards and lower average wages, and about the same inequality as Chile.

          Just to make things clear.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps their living standards aren’t as good as they appear. Sometimes the data doesn’t tell the whole story. I also know there was trouble in Brazil and Argentina earlier. A family friend was in South America and people really were concerned there would be war any time along the Brazil boarder between Columbia. So things aren’t very stable right now and people are starving in some areas. I think there are a lot of confounding variables sociologists would have to sort out.

          • BJ
            Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

            Oh yeah, Brazil is definitely a powder keg. Bolsonaro might keep it from exploding for now. If he can crack down on crime — particularly in poor areas — and corruption, he can probably keep it together for some time. But Bolsonaro is the first sign of things to come there…

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          … I don’t get why Chile is one of the first dominoes to fall. Chile is one of the most unequal countries, but the average wage there is still higher than in nearly every country in the region.

          Sometimes folks have to be close enough to the big house to press their noses against the outside of the window and see how the other half lives before they understand how unfair things actually are.

          • BJ
            Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Eh. Historically, inequality leads to severe instability when the living standards of the lower classes aren’t high enough, rather than when the living standards of the rich are too high. When you have a pretty good apartment with consistent heat, A/C, electricity, etc., you’re pretty damn reluctant to engage in activity that may result in giving that up just for a chance to put it to the man.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 24, 2019 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          “It seems like it’s Chile’s middle class that’s rioting, and that’s what’s confusing me.”

          As revolutions around the world have demonstrated, beginning with the French, it’s always the middle class, the bourgeoisie, who start it. The poor are too ground down, too busy just existing, and too disorganised to start anything. The politically aware among the middle class are well enough fed, have the time and the contacts to see the inequalities, sufficient funds to organise (because organising a protest or a movement does cost something), the communications, and the motivation to try and improve things.

          (I’m generalising of course).


          • BJ
            Posted October 24, 2019 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

            When it comes to protest movements or rioting, I never use the French as an example or comparable; they just love protesting and rioting 🙂 I don’t know why. It’s like a national pastime over there.

            But, with regard to the poor: in South America, it is often the poor who get these things rolling (Bolivia is an excellent study in this). Argentina’s middle class rioted at points, but that’s only because the economy collapsed.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted October 24, 2019 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

              But it was not the poor in Evo’s “The Plurinational State of Bolivia” that began the pushback. The Bolivia game involves over twenty movements nearly all of which have grown out of…

              [1] hatred & distrust of decades of US interference [manipulation – just like the Ruskies are doing everywhere today] in their internal economy, politics & educational establishments, plus

              [2] Marxist ideology which is absorbed in South America as readily as mother’s milk. Even the vice prez of Bolivia is a rich, dreaming Marxist ideologue who wants to burn the midnight oil writing poetry & tilling the soil by day [for ten minutes to keep his hand in].

              The events in Bolivia are fuelled by intellectual dreamers who use the poor as cattle. A step up from the Trump approach though.

              • BJ
                Posted October 24, 2019 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

                As we said before, it might be intelligentsia that gets them going, but it’s usually the poor on the ground. In Bolivia, it’s the poor, no matter which faction.

                With regard to your other comment: forest fires are a lot harder to predict than something like this. It’s a lot easier to look at economic and social factors that foreshadow these things, especially when you compare them within a region.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      When asking “why Chile?” one has to consider the influence of recent popular mass protest events in other parts of the world – it is now a revived cultural norm for students [mostly the protest spark begins with students] to go out there on the street to protest climate change mitigation inertia, the quenching by authoritarians of human rights [HK & other places], right v left [broadly speaking] on jobs & migration, Catalonian separatists protesting against the jailing of nine of their leaders [inspired by HK], BREXIT on both sides – I could easily write a much longer list for just the last 18 months!

      It is in the air all over the World & sparks will become forest fires wherever an educated, free-thinking population has access to international news & new ideas.

      As Diana so wisely says this could easily become a North American pattern too without there being a grievance on the scale of an unjust proxy war in ’60s South East Asia. The United States has experienced an almost continuous state of potential & real riot for at least one hundred years – usually in small pockets such as inner cities or college campuses. It could get a lot worse there, or almost anywhere where the pop. aren’t under a jackboot.

      • BJ
        Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        So, to distill this, you think maybe we’re seeing an inversion of the normal conditions that lead to this, where it’s now a spreading political philosophy of the more comfortable classes to riot based on political issues in which they feel they’re losing, or want to make their voices heard? That’s interesting. I could see that.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Yes, but it’s not a new thing – popular protest has often been given a backbone by dissident intellectual activists who present new [or suppressed or unrealised] concepts to the ‘masses’ in a digestible form. I’m sure you don’t need a list for that, but the Arab Spring, perestroika/glasnost & the Velvet Revolution are just a handful of many, many examples. Sometimes the pressure for change comes from inside gov [as per Russia above] because they sense the dam is ready to burst otherwise.

          • BJ
            Posted October 24, 2019 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

            The intellegentsia organizing or prodding or being the philosophy behind movements is certainly not anything new, as you point out. It’s usually not them who carry out long-term protests, though, even if there are some examples of that.

            And we could go over how movements are organized today, how they can be set off by new conditions, etc., (we could talk about many different subjects), but this one in Chile feels very unique. Middle class in a country with one of the best economies in its region. No general economic collapse. If, six months ago, I asked you to choose five countries in South America that were on your short list for the next big political protests, would Chile have been on your list? Despite the large amount of time I spent studying the region, I doubt it would have made mine, though I would have had to put in some research first and it’s hard to figure out such a thing in hindsight.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted October 24, 2019 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

              If you’d asked for my predictions six months ago I couldn’t predict Chile, but neither could I predict where a generally predictable forest fire area will FIRST take light! Which acre begins the conflagration is for gods to predict even though mere mortals know there will be one somewhere in that forest.

              You can’t pick apart events afterwards & confidently assign reasons for “why Chile & not Paraguay or Mexico” – people are still arguing about the causes of WWI, of the Franco-Prussian war, the war between the States and so on – and they will be doing so still in another hundred years. We can look at generalised processes & draw useful conclusions, but the particulars are thankfully beyond us. We are not living in Isaac Asimov’s stupid? thought experiment “The Foundation Series” & there never will be a Hari Seldon.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          The American Prospect, 2018:

  5. GBJames
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:41 am | Permalink


  6. Charles Sawicki
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Jerry, don’t go anywhere you could be hit by rubber bullets. They consist of a metal shell usually about 40mm in diameter coated in rubber. People have died after being shot, but incapacitation is the usual (desired) outcome.

    • Posted October 24, 2019 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      I hope you mean 4mm in diameter …

      • Posted October 24, 2019 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Looks like the British version is, indeed, of large caliber.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted October 24, 2019 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, rubber bullets [or plastic bullets] are usually of large diameter to emulate a punch injury rather than the penetration injury of a smaller, faster round. It’s fired by the equivalent of a flare gun. British practise in Northern Ireland was to fire at the ground in front of a crowd & it should [mostly] bounce up to around knee level, but this recommended use was sometimes ignored & rounds were discharged in direct fire at target head height. This is lethal of course.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Here’s a shopping center near the port where a guard limits the number of people who can enter at one time.

    Must put a real damper on the chances of a flash-mob performance of “Ode to Joy” or “Bolero” or something from the ABBA oeuvre.

  8. Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    As someone who has been trained in use and been exposed, the only real hope you have against CS, CN possibly, is to not be exposed. Kerchiefs are not effective; any mucous membrane exposed will react. If exposed, keep your hands clear of your face until thorough washing can occur unless you need to pry an eyelid open. And seek medical aid if vomiting or difficulty in breathing occur.

    Bonne chance and enjoy democracy!

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    It’s somehow utterly sad, but deep in that sadness, hopeful – sad that people end up like this, yet hopeful because – sadly – it could be worse.

  10. Stephen Caldwell
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Certainly a very tense situation. Yet another sad chapter for this beautiful country. Stay safe.
    Consequently, there’s a pretty song by Sting called “Valparaiso” which has nothing to do with the current situation.

  11. Posted October 24, 2019 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I was in Berkeley at the time of the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. There was rioting and looting. A friend who ran a classical music CD shop got conked by a flying brick, and his windows were smashed, but he didn’t lose a single Mozart CD. But just around the corner an outdoor outfitter and a stereo shop were stripped to the bare walls. I concluded that the demonstrators didn’t care so much about social justice as they did about loading up on cool free stuff.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re making a mistake in equating “demonstrators” with “looters.”

  12. Mark R.
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Intense. May Ceiling Cat keep you safe. Maybe when the cruise is over, the riots will be over and you’ll be able to sight-see and stay out later than 6 (assuming you’re docking again in Valpo).

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Jerry took photos of several armed riot police during a demonstration and *didn’t* get beaten up or arrested? Truly, Chile is a strange country…



    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      … ‘armed’ riot police? I can’t see any guns (though they might be concealed). I fell prey to a common psychological illusion, documented in many pschology experiments, of ‘filling in the blanks’ or imagining a detail that commonly ‘ought’ to be there.



      • Posted October 25, 2019 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        I doubt they were armed with guns. Riot police in my country never carry guns – the rationale is that such firearms could end up in the hands of rioters.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 25, 2019 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

          Good point. And I’m sure carrying a gun would heighten the tension, quite aside from being hard to use successfully if the policeman is being mobbed.

          I’d say those police in the photos are just there for – what would one call it – psychological crowd control. They could physically do very little if the crowd decided to actually start rioting.


      • Michael Fisher
        Posted October 25, 2019 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        Jerry’s photos are all of the Carabineros de Chile which is the Chilean national police force. You can be sure they are all carrying firearms & in the bottom two photographs you can see the pistol holsters hanging from the belt on the right side & strapped around the thigh. The pistol is secured by the grip to the belt with a length of loopy cable as well in the photos I see in Google images.

        They are very much a military style police, but no weapons are worn on parade & I don’t know the policy in calm times, but right now all the cops are equipped with a pistol. If you see a Carabinero[sp ?] with heavier arms I think they are the same outfit, but special trained units such as the GOPE [Grupo de Operaciones Policiales Especiales] commandos.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 25, 2019 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

          Michael manages to prove my first comment not-wrong and my subsequent ones worng. Not for the first time…



          • Michael Fisher
            Posted October 25, 2019 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

            🙂 They are very calm cops – not so quick to deploy their firearms as say those in the Ferguson ‘Unrest’ & the like, but I doubt the Chilean urban public have easy access to guns.

  14. Posted October 24, 2019 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Income inequality has fallen in most South American countries, but in Chile it fell much less so Chile now has higher inequality than in most other SA countries, even though it has less inequality than before. Chile’s economy has grown slowly because it depends so much on exports of materials like copper, and materials prices have fallen. Also, because it has higher income, stable government (up until now), and a somewhat generous welfare state, it has attracted immigration from other SA countries.

    I must admit, though, I am surprised by the unrest. It seems like there was this powder keg which took only a small spark to ignite.

  15. Posted November 5, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Glad to see here that so many people care about what’s happening in Chile. What our Chilean friends tell us is that it is the inequality, lack of good health care coverage, poor pensions and the constitution written under Pinochet’s dictatorship that still stands, that are leading Chileans to protest. Piñera’s reaction to the metro protests was so violent, that it felt like the dictatorship all over again. Amigo, please be careful walking the streets in the protests, a rubber bullet to the eye can make you blind, and that has happened to over 200 people. Gracias, Rebecca

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