The second Friday of the Government of Gabriel Boric was marked by violence in downtown Santiago. Dozens of hooded youths clashed with the police and attacked businesses in the Plaza Italia sector, the epicenter of the 2019 riots that gave rise to the constitutional process and where a large part of the current president’s voters came from. The fateful day occurred days after La Moneda sent a bill to Congress to pardon prisoners related to the social outbreak. The residents and merchants of the area, fed up after almost two and a half years of riots, demand greater public order, one of the great challenges facing the new left-wing administration.
The demonstration to demand the resignation of the director of Carabineros, Ricardo Yáñez, and the release of the prisoners of the revolt began at 5:00 p.m., a ritual that takes place every Friday. In a matter of minutes, a group of girls with their faces covered lit a garbage can outside the subway closest to Plaza Italia, which was forced to suspend operations, and several young people set fire to boxes, drums and bags in the middle of the Alameda , the main road artery of the capital. Some hit the cars that got in the way and others pounded iron against the bus stops to the sound of “Free, free, the prisoners for fighting!”.
Valezca Garcés, 65, was one of those who shouted. “I will come until the prisoners are released, they approve the fifth withdrawal [del 10% de sus ahorros para la jubilación] and give the Mapuche what they want, because they have been fighting for longer than we have”. His presidential candidate was the communist Daniel Jadue, who lost in the primaries on the left to Boric. He rejects that the new president has said that “the criminal activities that take place on Fridays cannot continue to be allowed.” “We are not criminals, we are residents,” said Garcés. Asked about acts of vandalism, she argued that “violence is part of the DNA of the revolution.”
Another couple of protesters, she 42 and he 38, also supported Jadue. “Boric was not our candidate, it was to get out of trouble,” said the woman, who would like the new government to go to towns “where children go hungry and grandparents do not have a decent pension to live on.” The hundred people gathered were mainly young people who did not want to talk to the press, but there were also children who said they were only there “to watch” and older adults.
The spirits of the protest were already on fire due to the shooting of a policeman against a young man – not life-threatening – in a student demonstration hours before. According to preliminary information cited by the daily Third, about twenty people attacked the agent, who was released this Saturday while waiting for the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate what happened. The government spokeswoman, Camila Vallejo, described the confrontation as “extremely serious”. “As a government we must protect public order, but always attached to the protection of human rights.” The previous Friday, in the context of an arrest of a 65-year-old protester, Mayor Jadue criticized the “police repression.” “Not to disappoint the people!” He warned the Executive on Twitter.
Around 7:00 p.m. this Friday, the facade of the iconic Antigua Fuente restaurant could barely be seen. A group of criminals tried to set fire to the premises with a fire outside the facade completely covered with metal plates and protected by a thick fence. Carabineros agents extinguished the flames and removed four workers from the premises, including the owner and president of the Barrio Plaza Italia Trade Union Association, Carlos Siri, 55 years old. “Today is a black day for me,” he told this newspaper hours before inside his store. “The normal thing would be for them to try to vandalize the restaurant again.”
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Siri ended up in the hospital overnight for inhaling toxic fumes. “We had to call the Carabineros four or five times because every time they left, they attacked us again,” she explained this Saturday in a telephone conversation from her house.
The place known for its sandwiches for more than half a century has been a recurring focus of attacks on Fridays. Before the outbreak, they served between 600 and 700 customers a day. Now, on a normal day, 250. And on Fridays it’s a surprise every time someone comes in. In the block that leads to Plaza Italia there were 18 businesses before the riots. Today only two survive. “We are the only lit bulb in the middle of the field, so everyone comes to attack us. They believe that we are against the changes, but this is not a political headquarters, it is a restaurant,” added Claudio Siri, 42, Carlos’s cousin and partner, on Friday.
The Government has not made public statements about the disturbances in Plaza Italia and Lastarria, another neighboring neighborhood. Sources from the Metropolitan Regional Presidency referred this newspaper to speak with Carabineros on the subject. Colonel Gilberto Garay, prefect of the Central Santiago Prefecture, reported that the day ended with seven detainees and eight injured agents.
The week kicked off with the first meeting of the work table between the Minister of Economy, Nicolás Grau, and representatives of restoration associations in the center of the capital. Garu apologized to them on behalf of the State for the acts of violence they have suffered and promised, together with the mayor of Santiago, Irací Hassler, to develop a plan to protect security, although they did not offer details.
When the minister addressed the issues of the meeting in an interview, he said that “obviously” he would not go with his family to dinner in the neighborhood on Friday nights, taking out welts in the neighborhood. Grau referred in particular to the bohemian sector of Lastarria, where there were also acts of vandalism that included the breaking of glass, Molotov cocktails and fireworks.
This same Monday, the Minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, Giorgio Jackson, announced the utmost urgency for the project of amnesty for crimes committed “for or on the occasion of the public disorders of the social outbreak” that began in October 2019. Luz Galarce , a 52-year-old teacher and member of Santiago se Levanta, an organization that brings together 33 neighborhood groups and small business associations, rejects the proposal. “Before that they should apply measures to stop the violence,” she says on the phone. “Many neighbors have left. I fear for my integrity and that of my daughter, 14 years old, who suffers from panic attacks, ”she adds. “With pardons we cannot be calm. When they hit the streets, guess where they’re going? To Plaza Italia”, says Siri, who is looking for a place in the eastern sector of the capital to move her sandwich shop.