SANTIAGO – Hundreds of Chileans return to the streets of Santiago to join demonstrations with a month to go for the historical plebiscite for a new constitution, weeks before the first anniversary of the social unrest breaking out on Oct. 18 last year that kicked off the political crisis in the South American country.
At the central Plaza Italia square, rechristened as the Dignity Square by the protesters, citizens’ discontent was palpable as a march on Friday by a group of sanitary workers demanding better salaries began peacefully, but later descended into clashes and disturbances.
The protest was also joined by other groups who spread out around the roundabout at the square, a park, and the nearby streets, forcing the authorities to halt traffic on several roads.
Authorities ordered a massive deployment of the Carabineros – the military police – who tried to disperse the protesters with water cannons and teargas canisters. Police arrested at least four people.
The protesters shouted slogans against the government and called for support to the drafting of the new constitution.
Citizens will vote for the new constitution in a referendum on Oct. 25 that could bring a political solution to the social unrest.
Hours earlier on Friday morning, supporters of the two options in the plebiscite – drafting a new Magna Carta or keeping the current one – gathered in different parts of the capital to launch televised campaigning for the referendum.
The vote on the issue is the most important in three decades of democracy in the country, opening the possibility of putting aside the current constitution – drafted during the dictatorship (1973-1990) – which could kick off far-reaching changes in the political and economic model corresponding to demands for a fairer socio-economic structure.
After five months of relative calm due to lockdown measures, protests had kicked off again in August following the gradual easing of weeks-long restrictions linked to COVID-19.
Chile, which has registered over 450,000 cases and more than 12,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, began a district-wise reopening process based on the epidemiological spread of the virus.
Authorities freed most areas of the capital of the complete lockdown, and citizens are now allowed to hold weekly meetings.
Since last year, Chile has been witnessing its worst socio-political crisis since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).
Dozens of people were killed and thousands injured apart from sporadic episodes of looting, arson, and destruction of public property.