Pressure on Chile mounts amid allegations of rights violations during deadly riots

Chile's military said it would investigate allegations of human rights violations during days of riots, looting and protests that have left 15 dead and led to the arrest of more than 2,600.

President Sebastian Piñera says nation 'at war' though he doesn't say who enemy is

Demonstrators display flags and banners during a protest against President Sebastian Piñera in Santiago. Protests began on Friday and developed into looting and arson, generating chaos in Santiago, Valparaiso, Chile, and a dozen other cities, resulting in at least 15 deaths. (Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)

Chile's military said it would investigate allegations of human rights violations during days of riots, looting and protests that have left 15 dead and led to the arrest of more than 2,600.

Ten cities have been placed in a state of emergency and under evening lockdown since unrest broke out last Friday during protests over high living costs and inequality.

As pressure on the government mounted, centre-right President Sebastian Piñera said he would meet with opposition leaders on Tuesday to forge a "new social contract."

But almost all of the key left-leaning opposition parties rejected the invitation to talks until Piñera showed proof of safeguarding the human rights of protesters amid reports of heavy-handedness by security forces during a weekend of riots.

On Monday, Piñera said the country is "at war with a powerful, relentless enemy that respects nothing or anyone, and is willing to use violence and crime without any limits," though he did not say who the enemy is.

Minor incidents were reported into the early hours Tuesday after some protesters disobeyed emergency curfews, the military said.

Riot police also used tear gas and water cannons to break up marches by rock-throwing demonstrators in several parts of Santiago, while soldiers and police guarded other Chileans who formed long lines at supermarkets.

"I've walked several kilometres searching for milk, but the supermarkets remain closed and neighbourhood stores have run out," said retiree Carmen Fuentealba.

Many stores, subway stations and banks were burned, damaged or looted during protests over the weekend, and some people have reported problems getting cash at ATMs.

The general in charge of security in Santiago said he was aware of videos circulating on social media suggesting brutality by police or the military in dealing with protesters and vandals.

"We are investigating every one of these situations. We're not going to hide anything," Gen. Javier Iturriaga told reporters.

A woman cleans up at a looted supermarket in Concepcion, Chile, on Sunday as protests over an increase in public transit fares prompted the president to declare a state of emergency. (Juan Gonzalez/Reuters)

Canada issues travel warning

Later in the morning, the Interior Ministry's sub-secretary, Rodrigo Ubilla, declined to identify the 15 people killed since last Friday.

In a heated exchange with reporters, he said 11 people had died in arson attempts, looting and rioting in Santiago, and two people had died of gunshot wounds. Two others died in vehicle-related accidents, one outside Santiago and one further south, in the port city of Talcahuano, about 500 kilometres from Santiago.

The prosecutor said the vehicle-related case involved a 23-year-old man run over by a military truck.

Global Affairs Canada warned Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to Chile, because of the ongoing demonstrations and civil unrest. The department said Canadians are responsible for their own safety abroad.

The Chilean Institute for Human Rights said that by Monday night it had registered 84 people injured by firearms.

Amnesty International on Tuesday said in an open letter to Piñera that it was concerned over human rights violations, and limitations imposed by the military during citywide evening lockdowns.

Watch protesters clash Monday with police in the streets of Chile's capital:

Thousands of protesters came out into the streets of Santiago and clashed with police in Plaza Italia with water cannons and tear gas used by authorities to disperse the crowds. 2:18

"The sole fact that some groups or people have committed acts of violence in a protest does not authorize security forces to dissolve them with the use of force," said Erika Guevara, director of Amnesty International Americas.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile, called Monday for independent investigations into the protest deaths, citing "disturbing allegations" of excessive use of force by security forces.

Bachelet made no explicit reference to her successor, Piñera, in her statement calling for immediate dialogue and a halt to "inflammatory rhetoric" that she warned could aggravate the situation.

"The authorities must act in strict accordance with international human rights standards, and any application of the state of emergency must be exceptional and rooted in law," Bachelet said.

The widespread protests sowed destruction across the city. Street cleaners and working parties of volunteers on Tuesday struggled to tidy and repair Santiago's central Plaza Italia, the focal point of much of the unrest, which was littered with broken glass and stone, graffiti and still-smoldering fires.

Many downtown streets still reeked of tear gas, and the majority of schools across the city remained closed Tuesday.

Traffic and public transportation were snarled across the city during the morning commute.

A demonstrator waves a Chilean flag next to a fire during a protest on Monday in Santiago. ( Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)

The protests were sparked by an increase in public transport fares in early October. But they reflect simmering anger over intense economic inequality in Chile, as well as costly health, education and pension systems seen by many as inadequate.

"This won't stop until people see real change," said Brandon Rodriguez, 25, a security guard. "Governments of the left and right have come and gone … but nothing changes for ordinary people."

The unrest is also spilling over into Chile's copper industry. Workers at Chile's state-owned Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, plan to join a general strike on Wednesday, the head of the union group said.

Meanwhile, workers at BHP's Escondida copper mine, which has the largest copper deposit in the world, staged a brief strike Tuesday morning, union officials said, partially paralyzing work in support of the demonstrations.

At Santiago's international airport, many passengers were stranded after hundreds of flights were cancelled by major airlines over several days, and airlines laid out camp beds on the airport forecourt to accommodate them.

A riot police water cannon sprays water towards demonstrators taking part in a protest against Chile's state economic model in Santiago. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

'Government cares more about the wealthy'

The protests have shaken and surprised a nation noted for economic stability over the past decades, which has seen steadily declining poverty despite persistent high rates of inequality.

"I'm protesting for my daughter, for my wife, for my mother, not just for the 30 pesos of the Metro — for the low salaries, for the privileges of the political class, for their millionaire salaries," said Andres Abregu, an Uber driver, who complained he's still paying a student debt and can't provide a decent life for his family.

Patricio Navia, a professor at the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, said "people went out to protest because they feel the government cares more about the wealthy and that social programs help the very poor, but the rest of the population is left to care for themselves.

"They are not poor enough to get government subsidies nor rich enough to get government tax credits. They revolted to make their voice heard."

With files from The Associated Press


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.