SANTIAGO – Acts of arson were witnessed Monday in the streets of Chile’s capital, highlighting the social unrest engulfing the country in recent days, even after President Sebastian Piñera reshuffled eight cabinet ministers.
Following days in which Chileans had marched demanding political change, a protest called Monday in front of the executive office’s headquarters left scenes of police clashes and fires that engulfed the center of Santiago.
The march was contained about 200 meters before it reached the headquarters, during which the violence escalated and barricades were formed in clashes between rioters and security personnel.
A shopping center was set ablaze in one of the capital’s main arteries, which burned for hours before firefighters could extinguish the flames.
Also in flames was a nearby hotel and the Plaza Italia metro station, among others. The Regional Health Secretariat, which treats about 700 people daily, was also looted.
The events took place a day after the government ended the state of emergency status it had imposed throughout last week, in which the military took charge of security following social unrest that has left 20 dead.
“THE VIOLENCE WE’VE WITNESSED IS UNACCEPTABLE”
New Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel wrote Monday on Twitter that the violence was “unacceptable and had to explicitly and unambiguously be rejected by everyone.”
“It doesn’t represent the legitimate demands that citizens have proposed. Dialogue and collaboration are the way forward. One social agenda for a fairer Chile,” Blumel added.
Karla Rubilar, the government’s new spokeswoman, differentiated the violence from peaceful marches – which saw 1.2 million people take to the streets Friday.
“What we are seeing today in the center of Santiago and some small protests in other regions aren’t the people who want social justice, we’re seeing people who want destruction and chaos,” she said.
“They’re 6,500 people who think they can take Santiago, but we’re going to find them. We may take some time, but we will find them,” she added.
Rubilar is part of Piñera’s big cabinet reshuffle, through which he looked to quell the political crisis his country is witnessing.
The president dismissed some of his most trusted officials such as Interior Minister Andres Chadwick or Spokeswoman Cecilia Perez, who supported Piñera during his first tenure from 2010 to 2014.
Finance Minister Felipe Larrain, Economy Minister Juan Andres Fontaine, Labor Minister Nicolas Monckeberg and Sports Minister Pauline Kantor were also replaced.
Ignacio Briones became the new finance minister, Lucas Palacios now heads the economy ministry and Maria Jose Zaldivar will head the labor ministry.
Julio Isamit, 30, was named Minister of National Goods, replacing Felipe Ward. Former spokeswoman Perez will now head the sports ministry.
The changes were criticized by the opposition, saying it didn’t think these were the appropriate moves in a moment of social crisis.
“Lamentably, this cabinet change with many repeated names isn’t up to the standard of what is currently needed at this moment,” Carlos Montes, a Socialist Party senator, wrote on Twitter.
Beatriz Sanchez, the representative of left-wing coalition Frente Amplio, wrote on Twitter that Piñera only “shuffles his pieces,” when Chileans are demanding that he “change the playing board.” She added that this could only be done by calling an election so that the crisis is democratically resolved.
Ivan Flores, president of the Chamber of Deputies and member of the Democratic Christian Party, said a change of direction was needed instead of a change of ministers, adding that objectives needed deadlines.
“When will we set off with the New Constitution on a process through which the people can express themselves and build a fairer country, as they have demanded?” Flores said to local radio Bio Bio.
Opposition senators will present a constitutional reform project to congress Tuesday.