Chile: Doubts Over Origin of Violence at Student Protests

Last Wednesday, August 8, 2012, thousands of students tried to march on the Alameda avenue in downtown Santiago in a non-authorized protest. When they intended to start walking to Plaza Los Héroes (Heroes Plaza), Carabineros (Chile's national police) began to shoot water and tear gas at the contingent to prevent them from carrying on. The group decided to retreat to avoid clashes; however, a bunch of hooded thugs reacted by attacking three public transportation buses, bullying users and drivers, throwing stones at the buses, and later setting the buses on fire.

These violent acts caused the government to accuse [es] students of fostering an environment for riots with their protests, while some protesters wondered if the thugs were actually part of a set-up to turn the public's opinion in favor of the approval of the Anti-protest Law or Hinzpeter Law that is currently being discussed in Congress. Also, the accusation made by the University of Chile Student Federation (FECh) stating that the police had fired tear gas at their headquarters on that same day, added to the controversy.

Public transportation bus on fire during the student protest on August 8, 2012. Picture by Mario_Tellez Tellez, copyright Demotix.

Gabriel Boric (@gabrielboric) [es], FECh President, questioned:

@gabrielboric: Creo q quema d micros es #montaje. ¿Q hace una micro vacía en 1/2 d la calle justo mientras se tramita ley Hinzpeter? …

@gabrielboric: I think that the bus burning is a #montaje (set-up). Isn't it weird that an empty bus happened to be in the middle of the street just as the Hinzpeter law is being discussed? …

Gonzalo Cid Vega (@gonzalocidv) [es], leader of the Sexual Diversity Movement (MUMS) went further and condemned the actions:

@gonzalocidv: #Yoapoyoalosestudiantes y condeno los montajes, como queman tantos buses en las narices de carabineros..

@gonzalocidv#Yoapoyoalosestudiantes (I support the students) and condemn the set-ups, how is it that they burn so many buses in the police's face…

On the other hand, Alfonso Henriquez (@alfonsohenri) [es] referred to the Chilean education system as he wrote about the set-up accusations:

@alfonsohenri: #yoapoyoalosestudiantes porque el peor montaje de todos es el injusto sistema educacional chileno.”

@alfonsohenri#yoapoyoalosestudiantes (I support the students) because the worst set-up of all is the unjust Chilean education system.”

The citizen media site Sentidos Comunes gathered pictures and impressions from netizens at the protest in this photo post where many difficult or doubtful situations were portrayed and later commented on various social networks. The Twitter user Movilízate Chile (Speak Out Chile) also shared this video that shows a police car carrying tires close to a place where clashes were later reported:

TV presenter Karol Jesús Lucero V (@Karol_LuceroV) [es] wrote against the violence echoing what many were commenting on social networks.

@Karol_LuceroV: #YoApoyoalosEstudiantes pero Jamás a los delincuentes encapuchados que empañan el común denominador del movimiento… Basta de Violencia!

@Karol_LuceroV: #YoApoyoalosEstudiantes (I support the students) but never the hooded criminals who tarnish the main essence of the movement… Stop the Violence!

Simón Boric Font (@sboric) [es] supported the disapproval and made the following clear:

@sboric: La violencia no le hace bien al movimiento. La FECh, @gabrielboric y Camila han sido enfáticos en ESO. Condenada 1 y mill veces.

@sboric: Violence does no good to the movement. FECh, @gabrielboric and Camila have been emphatic about IT. Reprehend (violence) 1 and an thousand times.

The official account of the music group Illapu (@illapu) [es] insisted on the cop's responsibility:

@illapu: Sede de la FECH esta sitiada por las FFEE q lanzan bombas lacrimógenas están los dirigentes dentro, si esto no es provocar, que es entonces?

@illapu: FECH headquarters is besieged by FFEE (Special Forces) who are firing tear gas while the leaders are inside, if this is not provoking, what is it then?

To which designer Jacque Torrejón (@jacque_83) [es] replied:

@jacque_83: @illapu quemar micros no es provocar? si hay delincuentes en la confech no hay que sacarlos? PFFFF

@jacque_83@illapu burning buses is not provoking? if there are criminals inside the confech shouldn't they be pulled out? PFFFF

Meanwhile Interior Minister, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, in a television interview labelled [es] as “ridiculous to say that the burning buses was a set-up” and added “there are a bunch of leaders that at this point look more like political leaders because they've run out of topics in their agenda since all of them have been taken seriously by the Congress”.

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