Ongoing protests in Chile are turning more violent as secondary school and university students around Santiago are clashing with the police. The Guardian’s Jonathan Franklin reports that after marching through the center of the city, students armed with Molotov cocktails, rocks and other incendiary and non-incendiary projectiles have now broken into and occupied at least 30 sites that are meant to serve as polling places in Chile’s upcoming presidential primary vote.
The current president Sebastián Piñera has already warned those occupying the buildings that unless they surrendered them peacefully, they would be subject of force by riot police. In his statement, he accused the protesters of attempting by force to subvert the will of 13 million Chilean citizens by interfering with their ability to cast a ballot. He also called those holding the buildings not students but criminals and extremists.
Police arrested 102 people and four officers were injured.
The students were led by Moisés Paredes, a high school leader who held a press conference suggesting the government find an alternative location for their elections. The face-off between the billionaire businessman turned president and teenage student shocked many older Chileans who wondered aloud who was in control.
“We are talking about underage children who by law are not able to vote nor buy a pack of cigarettes. Children who need their parents’ permission to leave the country … who can’t by law even drive a car,” wrote Teresa Marinovic, in the influential online newspaper El Mostrador.
Commentators are calling this wave of protests “an attack on politics as usual.”
Chile isn’t the only South American country where widespread protests have been taking place throughout the previous month. In neighboring Brazil, police have been waging a battle on their own against a group of protesters and in the past two weeks, clashes between marchers and law enforcement officers have been reported.
As for Chile, those rising up against the Piñera administration are demanding changes on a number of issues including wider redistribution of the profits from copper mining and a return of state control over the country’s universities.
Much of the energy comes from the ranks of public schoolchildren aged 14-17. Though not old enough to order a beer, they are connected by Facebook and able to marshal massive marches and flashmobs in the hundreds when a single friend is arrested and held by Carabineros de Chile, the national police force. Instead of football or skateboarding, teenagers often gather after school in public parks to draft declarations and manifestos.