SANTIAGO – Scores of Chilean truck drivers unhappy about highway tolls slowed traffic to a crawl Wednesday on several major routes in the capital city of Santiago.
The mobilization was organized by the No+TAG group, which takes its name from the transponder, known as a TAG, that motorists must install in their vehicles to drive on Santiago’s privately operated toll roads.
Truckers resorted to the slow-down after two days of talks with the government on reducing tolls from the current “abusive” levels ended without agreement.
With Chilean flags draped over the side-windows of their vehicles, the drivers entered Route 5 south of the capital and proceeded at low speed in the direction of downtown Santiago.
The truckers kept one lane open for emergency vehicles.
As the caravan made its way into the center of the city, some taxi drivers and private motorists joined the truckers.
The No+TAG group wants an 80 percent cut in the fees paid by motorists under the TAG system.
For $165, a motorist can obtain a monthly pass usable on all of the toll roads in greater Santiago. Seven in every 10 Chilean workers earn less than $745 a month, and 53 percent make less than $540 monthly.
Besides lower tolls, the truckers want an end to regulations that prevent drivers from renewing their licenses if they have unpaid TAG debt.
The truckers’ action raised the curtain on a 20th consecutive day of protests against the austerity policies of Chile’s right-wing government.
Sparked by a hike in subway fares in the capital, the demonstrations were fueled by long-simmering discontent over extreme economic inequality and the ways in which the 1980 constitution imposed by dictator Augusto Pinochet continues to shape Chilean society.
A crowd of 1.2 million people, more than 5 percent of Chile’s population, took part in an Oct. 25 rally in Santiago to demand the resignation of President Sebastian Piñera.
At least 20 people have died in the protests and thousands more have been injured. Many of the casualties were victims of violence by the security forces.
The Attorney General’s Office announced Wednesday that it plans to file charges against 14 members of the Carabineros – Chile’s militarized national police – for torturing two protesters.