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Chile: Army Deployed to Streets of Concepción

As the third day after the devastating 8.8-magnitude quake came to an end, the situation in Concepción, Chile’s second largest city, had worsened considerably since Sunday. Confirmed reports of uncontrolled looting, building collapses, violence, and even in some cases, arson led to the deployment of a strong contingent of 4,500 soldiers [es] to the city.

Photos of soldiers in the streets of Concepción by Juan Eduardo Donoso and used under a Creative Commons license.

Photos of soldiers in the streets of Concepción by Juan Eduardo Donoso and used under a Creative Commons license.

The deployment of the army occurs at a time when regional authorities had begun to point fingers at the national government of President Michelle Bachelet for not sending the army earlier. Currently, citizen and mass media outlets in Chile report that Concepcion is experiencing a shortage of food and water [es]. The city has no electricity and its water supply is intermittent [es]. Apart from these complications, several buildings have collapsed throughout the city [es]. Perhaps the most dramatic and devastating collapse that occurred was that of a 15-story building, where survivors are still thought to be trapped under the rubble. Twitter user Eduardo Woo (@edowoo), a student and reporter, informed [es]:

Confirman sobrevivientes en el edificio de 15 pisos colapsado en Concepción; equipos de rescate trabajan en estos momentos.

Survivors confirmed in the collapsed 15-story building in Concepción; rescue teams work at this moment.

The structural damage and shortage of food caused by the earthquake has exacerbated the security situation in Concepción, which has deteriorated quickly since the quake struck. What began as the search for essential goods in supermarkets has now turned into uncontrolled looting with arson by some groups, as was the case in the La Polar store and Alvi Supermarket [es]. From the Concepción area, Claudia Pradenas (@clauspradenas), a Twitter user, expressed her frustration with the looting and arson in La Polar:

Que rabia! Que pena! 19 muertos en INCENDIO INTENCIONAL de LA POLAR en Concepción. Como si no fuera poco con el #terremotochile !

How infuriating! How sad! 19 dead in INTENTIONAL FIRE of LA POLAR in Concepción. As if it wasn’t enough with the earthquake!

Firefighters attempting to extinguish fire at La Polar supermarket by Juan Eduardo Donoso and used under a Creative Commons license.

Firefighters attempting to extinguish fire at La Polar supermarket by Juan Eduardo Donoso and used under a Creative Commons license.

To see more photos from Concepción after the earthquake, please visit Juan Eduardo Donoso's Flickr page.

On Sunday, the Chilean Government had established a curfew from 9pm to 6am in the Maule and Bio-Bio regions. The curfew affected important cities like Concepción and Talca. In Concepción, more than 150 arrests were made and one man was shot dead [es] in undetermined circumstances. However, in spite of the curfew, many in Concepción felt that this measure had not succeeded at stopping crime. Gerson Guzman (@GersonGuzmanD) from Concepción used his Twitter account to call on the authorities to increase security:

Siguen los saqueos en Concepción, Talcahuano y en Coronel… Ayuda urgente, ¿Dónde está el ejercito?

Lootings continue in Concepcion, Talcahuano and in Coronel…Urgent help, Where is the army?

Likewise, Maria Catalina (@CataDinali) tried to alert Megavision, a Chilean TV station of the situation in Concepción:

@muchogustoMEGA Se necesitan Militares URGENTE en ANDALUE (san pedro de la paz, concepcion), saqueos constantes, los vecinos estan armados

@muchogustoMEGA We need Soldiers URGENTLY in ANDALUE (san pedro de la paz, concepción), looting constant, neighbors are armed

The Bio-Bio region, of which Concepción is its capital, had soldiers in the streets before Monday’s deployment, but these were there to support the work of Carabineros, Chile’s national police. The deteriorating situation motivated the deployment of 10,000 soldiers to the O’Higgins, Maule, Bio-Bio, and Araucania regions on Monday afternoon; thousands of soldiers were deployed only to Concepción. The curfew was also extended from 8pm to 12pm [es] for Monday night.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Jacqueline van Rysselberghe’s appealed for more military personnel and complained that “24 key hours had been wasted” She called on Edmundo Perez-Yoma, Chile’s Interior Minister, to assume his responsibility [es] for the situation in Concepción. The appeals of the mayor of Concepción have certainly not gone unheard, but many Chileans feel that her reaction has been detrimental to the relief effort and security situation. One such Chilean is Camila Tiznado (@is0bel):

Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe (alcaldesa de Conce) siento que es mas lo que asusta a la gente que lo que ayuda…

I feel that Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe (mayor of Conce) scares people more than helps them…

Though the deployment of the armed forces to the streets occurs in the context of a natural disaster, there are citizens that oppose the deployments. Alerta Roja [es], a left-wing blog, published a press release by the Chilean Communist Party and several other leftist organizations, which criticized the deployment of the army:

Rechazamos la distorsión estimulada por los medios de comunicación en la priorización de las urgencias, los que han puesto énfasis en la protección del derecho a la propiedad de los grandes hipermercados y la movilización de las fuerzas armadas bajo pretexto del mantenimiento de la seguridad pública, en vez de presionar por una respuesta eficaz y eficiente en la restitución de la conectividad, servicios básicos y alimentación para los compatriotas afectados.

We reject the distortion encouraged by the media with regard to the prioritization of emergencies. [The media] has placed an emphasis on the protection of the right to private property of the supermarkets and the mobilization of the armed forces under the pretext to maintain public security, instead of pressuring for an effective and efficient response in the restitution of connectivity, public services, and nutrition of our affected fellow countrymen.

These reactions to the curfews and the deployment of the army are one of many, but the prevalent opinion among Chileans (that use citizen media) in Concepción and the Bio-Bio region is that the deployment was needed. Throughout Monday night and Tuesday morning, reports of lootings of homes in Concepción continue to surface though the internet. In Twitter, Carolina Tapia (@carolinatapiaz) said:

Villa Universidad de Concepción, cerca de campos deportivos de Bellavista en Conce, me informan que hay saqueos a viviendas urgente ayuda

University of Concepción neighborhood, close to the sports fields in Bellavista in Concepción, I’ve been informed that there are lootings of homes. Help urgent

Early on Tuesday morning, Cris Sandoval (@Cris_Sandok) reported:

Dos replicas en Concepción… Toque de queda una medida necesaria, hasta las 12:00 del 02.Marzo… 12 personas detenidas hasta ahora…

Two aftershocks in Concepción… curfew a necessary measure, until 12:00 on 02. March… 12 people detained until now

It seems that the uncertainty of the aftershocks, looting and lawlessness will continue at least for tonight. Though the army is likely to improve order and security quickly, the looting and skirmishes among citizens will likely continue until road connectivity allows large amounts of supplies to enter Concepción.

2 comments

  • Jack Schaible

    Let’s get more media coverage of the poverty-ridden towns south of Concepcion….Boca Sur, Lagunillas, Coronel and Lota. The media is focusing on Concepcion where there is lots of wealth. If you go 5 to 20 miles south of Concepcion where over 150,000 poor people live in old homes and shacks, there must be much devistation of life and property. BUT WHY NO INFORMATION OR COVERAGE? The area has a long history of the Chilean government ignoring this area, and the looting and violence is partly coming from much pent-up anger from a large group of oppressed people in the area, who feel they have been stepped on by the wealthy business and factory owners who control the power. They have little voice except to protest and that can easily escalate into anarchy when people lose hope for a positive change. I have worked as an humanitarian relief volunteer in this area for the past 7 years and have heard and seen much. The people have little hope of change and many see nothing to lose by ‘burning down the barn to kill a few rats.”

  • Hi Jack, thanks for writing. I have no doubt that what you say is true.

    The great thing about citizen media is that it is easy to use and open to anyone.

    Since you live there, you are in the best position to tell the whole world what is happening there.

    Open a blog: http://www.wordpress.com or open a Twitter account: http://www.twitter.com and describe what is happening in your area…and then let us know, and we would be more than willing to draw attention to your news.

    People create citizen media because they do not want to wait for traditional media to cover issues that they feel is important.

    Best of luck.

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