SANTIAGO – Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said on Monday that the majority of his country’s citizens want to live “in democracy and in peace,” after a night of extreme violence during which one person was shot dead and police arrested more than 640 people.
“We saw a minority of criminals who unleashed a wave of violence, looting and vandalism, including burning two churches of much historical value … The immense majority of Chileans want to live in democracy and in peace,” the conservative leader said.
The unrest occurred around sunset and cast a somber shadow over the celebrations and massive gatherings in Santiago and other cities around the country to commemorate the first anniversary of the so-called “social explosion,” which erupted in October 2019 as Chileans took to the streets to demand greater social equality and which is considered to be the most serious such event since the end of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet.
One person was killed by gunfire, at least 643 were arrested, 116 law enforcement officers were injured, two churches were burned and several businesses were looted during the night of violence.
Images of the cupula of the Church of the Annunciation in flames and collapsing amid applause and cheers from a group of demonstrators went viral on the social networks and were shown on media outlets all around the world.
Piñera said that the government will file on Monday several cases aiming to “severely punish” those responsible for the destruction, and he called on the political forces to condemn not only the deeds but also “those who in one way or another promote violence, condone it or justify it.”
The anniversary of the protests took place one week before 14.5 million Chileans will go the polls for an historic plebiscite to say whether or not they want to replace the current constitution, which was inherited from the dictatorship and is seen as the document that is the origin of the country’s inequalities.
The plebiscite, which was to have been held last April but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, was agreed to by the country’s political forces to decompress the social crisis, which left some 30 people dead and thousands injured, along with reports of human rights abuses by the security forces.
The president emphasized that the society wants a “participatory” vote and “one in which everyone can freely demonstrate,” although he added that “minority groups are going to try to sully or obstruct that process.”
“We want a constitution that will be a great framework for unity, for stability, for projecting our country, and for that to occur it is fundamental that it has legitimacy accorded to it by a broad majority of the citizens,” added Piñera, who suffers politically from low favorability ratings.