More than a million protesters took out a peaceful march in Chile on Friday demanding justice, equality, dignity and economic reforms.
The marchers chanted slogans demanding the resignation of President Sebastian Pinera. They objected to the heavy military presence in the streets of Santiago ever since the protests began on Oct 18.
For many senior citizens, the movement of armoured personnel carriers and troops in the capital revived memories of military rule under the dictator Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.
Some of the marchers even sang the song The Right to Live by singer Víctor Jara killed during the Pinochet era.
Earlier in the day, cars and trucks took part in a protest against highway tolls, blocking the capital’s main roads.
Friday’s unprecedented protests sent a clear message to politicians, the military and elites not to mess up with the lives of ordinary people.
The protest, which began early this month over a small hike in subway fare, snowballed into the biggest crisis engulfing Chile since the return of democracy.
It touched on other issues such as low wages and pensions, soaring health care and education costs hurting common people and proposed hike in electricity charges.
Santiago’s governor Karla Rubilar described it a historic day for Chile as the peaceful march represented the dream of the country’s 18 million.
Pinera tweeted he heard the message for change by the protesters. The government will work towards the betterment of all, he added.
In fact, the ongoing protests prompted Pinera to raise the monthly minimum income to $480 and announce a 20% increase in the lowest pensions. He has promised to lift emergency and night curfew.
The president apologised to the nation for his government’s failure to prevent the protests from turning violent last week.
The government did not anticipate that an increase in metro fare by 30 pesos (4 cents) and protest by high school students could lead to massive fare dodges, closure of metro stations and riots.
Metro stations, supermarkets and public property were torched, looted or smashed.
Some 19 people died and 295 others were injured in nationwide clashes with army. More than 3,000 protesters were detained.
Although the protests were leaderless, social media helped in whipping up passions. For instance, one post on social media showed the billionaire president dining in a top class restaurant infuriating the protesters.
One of the main causes of the protests is economic inequality with the gap between the rich and the poor widening. This has resulted in a social divide in Chile which still is among the richest countries in Latin America,