SANTIAGO – Thousands of people showed up on Friday in Plaza Italia, the main square of the Chilean capital Santiago, to celebrate Valentine’s Day by demanding the resignation of the controversial national police chief who is accused of human rights violations during ongoing civil unrest in the country.
The gathering, which took place in a generally peaceful and festive atmosphere, had been announced on social networks as “Valentine’s Day without Rozas,” demanding the ouster of General Mario Rozas, head of the Carabineros, Chile’s militarized national police.
“We have been gathering here to protest every Friday and we had to come here today before going to celebrate anything,” university student Claudia Lopez told EFE.
“This is a struggle of the people together, and a cry against all that we have suffered during a year of abuse, corruption, stealing and plunder,” said Jesus, Lopez’s partner.
The peaceful gathering was a contrast to last week’s clashes between protesters and police at the Plaza Italia, one of the most popular sites of protest in the country.
Although protests have lost some momentum in recent days, demonstrations are expected to gather steam again with students returning to classes after the summer break and planning to protest against the upcoming annual Viña del Mar International Song Festival.
“These are not the times to celebrate the Viña festival. It doesn’t fit,” Lopez insisted.
The festival is set to be held between Feb. 23-28 in the coastal city of Viña del Mar, with the organizers deciding to hold it austerely, without a red carpet or the opening gala.
The fate of the festival has hung in the balance since widespread protests broke out in the country in October that led to the cancellation of other international events such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) and the Copa Libertadores soccer tournament.
This has been the biggest social uprising in the country since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) with at least 30 people killed and thousands injured in clashes between the police and protesters.
Amnesty International and the United Nations have accused the security forces of using disproportionate force and committing human rights violations.
What began as a protest by Chilean students against the increase in metro fares in the capital quickly morphed into a general social uprising.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to call for a fairer economic model, forcing the government to announce a series of social measures and resulting in a historic accord among lawmakers to change the constitution inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship.
At the apex of the unrest, which has continued due to the people’s mistrust towards politicians, some violent incidents were reported across the country including looting, arson and setting up blazing barricades to hamper the security forces.