Civil unrest in Chile: Situational assessment and latest advice

Chile protests advice

Authored by Healix Global Security Operations Centre

Protests in Chile have escalated into significant civil unrest, resulting in 18 dead and approximately 5,000 arrests.

The protests began on Monday 14th October over an increase in metro fares but have since developed into a broader expression of discontent over the cost of living. Chile has one of the highest levels of income inequality in Latin America; the movement has primarily been led by the working class and students. However, because much of the unrest has occurred in and around metro stations, many bystanders have been caught up in the violence.

Students began responding to the price hikes by fare-dodging and jumping the paying gates. The authorities responded in turn by closing the gates to everyone. As this often occurred during rush hour while people were trying to get home from work, many began forcing the gates. The government deployed units of police to locations and began closing several stations. There have been multiple reports of police officers beating anyone they saw trying to fare-dodge.

The unrest has escalated elsewhere as well. Protesters in the San Isidro area of Santiago reportedly set the central office of the electricity company Enel alight. Burning roadblocks were erected in several locations around Santiago, and a bus was set on fire in Plaza Italia (also called Plaza Baquedano).

Protesters also began setting fire to buildings on 19th and 20th October; most of the targets have been metro stations, but a supermarket targeted by looters in San Bernardo was also set ablaze, reportedly killing three people. Over 100 casualties have been reported in two days. In addition, looting has been reported in several urban centres.

In response to the protests, security forces have used tear gas extensively as well as rubber bullets. Almost 10,000 troops were also deployed on 19th October in Santiago, Concepcion and Valpraiso. An overnight curfew has been implemented for 20h00 to 06h00 in Santiago; in Valparaiso and Concepcion, curfew is 18h00 to 06h00. Several military units have been mechanised, using Armoured Personnel Carriers to transport hundreds of troops to protest locations throughout Santiago, Concepcion and Valpraiso; military helicopters have also reportedly been deployed.

President Sebastian Pinera declared a 15-day State of Emergency on 19th October in Santiago and Chacabuco provinces, as well as Puente Alto and San Bernardo. Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benitez Airport [SCL] remains operational but there are roadblocks on several routes to the airport; several flights have been cancelled. The Libertadores border crossing with Argentina was closed on 19th October.

Situational assessment

The increase in transport fares that triggered the civil unrest in Chile has since been rescinded. However, it is highly unlikely this will quell unrest in the coming days. Although the protests were triggered by the transport fare hike, general discontent over the rising cost of living has been growing for months. Unrest on a similar scale is likely to continue into the coming week. Rioting and looting have been reported but largely localised.

Advice to travellers

If you or any of your employees are currently travelling in this area, our team of security experts have put together the following advice on how to stay safe.

  • Avoid protests owing to the high likelihood of violence. Protests may arise in any location, but they should be detectable from a distance due to the protesters doing ‘cacerolazos’ which means banging pots and pans with a spoon to make a lot of noise.
  • Avoid all metro stations and bus stops. Use alternative transport, preferably a pre-booked driver, and allow additional time for journeys.
  • Maintain a flexible itinerary in case of disruption. Be aware that gatherings often occur spontaneously and deteriorate at short notice. If you encounter a crowd of protesters, it is best to vacate the area immediately and return to secure office buildings or accommodation until the situation is contained.
  • If a higher risk protest location is unavoidable, do not wear military style clothing or anything that could be mistaken for a uniform. Do not attempt to cross roadblocks. Know where all exits are.
  • If you are caught outside in the middle of a riot or unrest, do not appear to take sides or attempt to photograph or film events. Move out of the crowd and find the nearest building to seek refuge. Avoid drawing attention to yourself. Keep your head down and avoid confrontation. Walk rather than run to avoid attracting attention. If you are caught in the middle of a riot or unrest while in a vehicle: remain inside your vehicle unless it has become the focus of the protest and avoid major roads and anticipate roadblocks. Do not drive towards large crowds; you may become a target. If driving is likely to endanger your safety further, exit your vehicle, lock it and move to the nearest building and seek refuge.
  • Liaise with local contacts to confirm routes are clear prior to setting out. Contact airlines directly for updates on flight cancellation or rescheduling.
  • Abide by curfew hours of 20h00 to 06h00 in Santiago; 18h00 to 06h00 in Valparaiso and Concepcion.
  • Abide by all directives issued by the security forces or authorities.

If you have a need for a more in-depth conversation or believe you may require a security evacuation, please reach out to gsoc@healix.com for additional information. We can offer a range of security services including ground support, bespoke event monitoring and evacuation planning and assistance.

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