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Massive Marches on Second Day of National Strike

25 Aug

Enthusiastic crowds give the second day of el paro the feel of a street party, although the day was marred by familiar scenes of vandalism and confrontation between Carabineros and violent minorities. 

Upwards of 600,000 people took to the streets across the nation with 300,000 of them in Santiago, according to CUT figures, Chile’s central workers union. In contrast Government spokesman Rodrigo Ubilla put the numbers at 175,000 nationally and 50,000 in the capital.

Obviously both parties have a vested interest in exaggerating the figures one way or the other and with few other sources from which to gauge the amount of people at the marches its hard to give them a definitive number.  But for those who were there, one adjective comes easily to mind – massive. There is no doubt in my mind that 100,000 people- at a bare minimum – marched on la Alameda, the capitals main artillery.

The marches marked the final day of a two day strike – called for by CUT – in solidarity with the student movement and to protest for industrial relations and constitutional reform and the creation of a “new economic model.”

In the capital 4 main marches took place at 10 in the morning from different points of the city’s downtown, with all of them converging on la Alameda. They were given last minute approval by governor Cecilia Perez, although they were not allowed to march down Alameda itself, as originally planned. Organizers consented to this proviso.

Smaller marches took place at various points on the cities outskirts.

Diverse and Enthusiastic Crowd

The crowd was distinguished from previous marches by its diversity. Union groups swelled student numbers and mixed with protesters of a variety of causes including public transport and health reform, indigenous recognition and animal rights. People of all ages were present.

Like many previous marches the event had a festive vibe. People dressed up and groups preformed choreographed dances and musical and theatrical performances.

As the marches wound there way through the streets of downtown some waved flags, held up banners and threw confetti from the balconies of their apartments. Maids cheered on the marchers by beating on pots and pans of the apartments they were cleaning with wooden spoons, a symbolic form of protest – called a cacerolazo – that has its roots in the period of the dictatorship.

Those who were at work watched on from their offices – many cheering or taking photos – while store owners and security guards looked on warily.

PHOTOS OF THE MARCH

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Things Heat Up

Though the march had the atmosphere of a street party, it was carefree and without incidents of violence. However when the four marches merged at la Alameda, the intensity was ratcheted up. Several police helicopters flew low over the crowd, drawing jeers and chants from the crowd.

Scenes of Violence

After a few hours – as the crowd was dispersing – small groups of encapuchados started to light fires and tear down street signs. Instantly the crowd tried to prevent any damage, by forming mobs around the perpetrators. Some tried to dissuade them, while others chanted abuse.

When this failed to dissuade them, the crowd began throwing lemons and bottles. Violence ensued when the encapuchados started attacking people who tried to stop them. At this stage there were no Carabineros at the scene to prevent violence, nor news crews to report the confrontation.

After 15:00, with the majority of the crowd gone, Carabineros moved into la Alameda to remove the violent minority that remained. They used the familiar techniques of tear gas, water cannons, dogs and batons.

Cacerolazo Ends el Paro

The two day strike was drawn to a conclusion with cacerolazos in plazas and street corners all of the city. In Plaza Ñuñoa –  an affluent inner city  barrio – hundreds gathered at 8 p.m. and took over the street. The sounds of them beating pots and pans mixed with drums and car horns reverberated throughout the streets of the barrio.

Plaza Ñuñoa Caceroloa: Photograph Courtesy of Oscar Pesce.

The atmosphere was relaxed and police presence minimal. Ages were even more varied then at the marches and costumes and puppets gave the plaza – known for its many pubs – the feel of a party.

However even in Ñuñoa – a 20 minute drive from where the protestors gathered on la Moneda – I could faintly taste the acrid sting of teargas in the air. “All of Santiago is probably a little spicy tonight,” said Sitio Quiltro photographer Oscar Pesce.

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