Fresh unrest erupts in Chile despite Cabinet reshuffle
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera replaced his Cabinet Monday following days of violent protests that have paralyzed the country, seen the military return to the streets, and led to the deaths of at least 20 people.
According to Pinera’s official Twitter account, the purpose of the change was to allow for open dialogue and justice in an attempt to solve the biggest political crisis since the country’s transition to democracy in 1990. The move comes two days after the President asked all of his ministers to resign.
Pinera replaced eight key members of his Cabinet, including the Ministers of Interior, Finance and Labor, as well as the Secretariat of the Presidency, which is akin to the Chief of Staff.
Despite the reshuffle, thousands of protesters returned to the streets of the Chilean capital Monday, calling for Pinera’s resignation and clashing with security forces in violent street battles.
A fire broke out on the corner of a main street in Santiago, engulfing clothing stores, a McDonald’s and a medical center, according to CNN Chile. Police have responded by firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons.
Government spokeswoman Karla Rubilar said in a televised address Monday evening that “people are tired of this violence and chaos.”
“How is this destruction helping to make the country better?” she said.
Pinera has called the protesters’ demands “legitimate” in a country that has among the highest levels of income inequality in the world.
The president has promised social and economic reforms to tackle issues at the heart of the unrest, including pension raises, affordable medical insurance, lowering the prices of medicines and stabilizing electricity prices.
On Thursday, Pinera announced a cancellation of energy price hikes that would have affected “almost 7 million Chilean households,” he said.
But many demonstrators see his efforts as too little, too late and they continue to turn out in their hundreds of thousands.
On Monday, protesters held a vigil for those who have died during the unrest. Images show a fountain in front of the Tribunal de Justicia dyed red to represent blood as two women light candles.
Chile’s Interior Minister’s Office raised the death toll to 20 over the weekend. In a statement, the new toll includes a burned body discovered inside a supermarket that was set on fire on October 24 in Maipu, a commune of Santiago.
The protests initially began over a now-suspended price hike for subway tickets in Santiago but have since expanded, revealing anger among ordinary Chileans who feel they have been excluded from the nation’s economic rise.
Many are frustrated over economic inequalities, living costs, rising debt and corruption in a country that remains among the most prosperous and stable in Latin America.
CNN’s Ana Melgar Zuniga, Natalie Gallon, Radina Gigova and Gemaud Angee contributed reporting.