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Chile: Expats Unfazed as U.S. Embassy in Santiago Issues “Emergency Message”

The U.S. Embassy in Santiago emailed an “emergency message for U.S. citizens” registered in Chile to keep out of the frequent and increasingly violent protests, but foreigners in Santiago don’t seem to be losing sleep over the roaring demonstrations.

“While the majority of the protests have been peaceful, in some cases masked protesters have destroyed property and clashed with authorities,” according to the security message. The U.S. Embassy in Santiago isn’t aware of any North Americans injured in the protests according to spokesman Paul Watzlavick, but he wrote that the alert was in “anticipation of upcoming events.”

A flood of union workers, estimated to include up to 200,000 demonstrators, plan to descend upon Santiago on August 24 and 25. The Unitary Central for Workers (CUT) alongside about 80 other unions are fighting, they say, for social justice and to advance democracy. The U.S. Embassy expects September 11, the day of Chile’s 1973 military coup against the government of Salvador Allende, to bring another wave of demonstrations.

A Californian in Chile, who writes Don’t Call Me Gringa, blogged:

Right now, there is a feeling in Chile that this balance is out of whack and that people won’t stand for it anymore. While I may not agree with some of their methods or even some of their messages, I admire those who are passionate enough about their causes to go out into the streets and demand change.

The unions aren’t the only protestors on the block. Hundreds of thousands of Chilean students, demonstrating for a high-quality, free public education system, have been a fixture in headlines since June.

Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera, whose approval tanked to 26 percent in July, tried to strike a deal several times, but the university students say they are holding out until their demands are met.

The students sleep in school without attending class, march en masse, hunger strike, run laps around the presidential palace and stage kissing sessions all to protest what they call their unequal education system.

Mentiraproducciones uploaded this video on YouTube featuring students in the education march:

Robert L. Funk, an assistant professor at the University of Chile's Institute for Public Affair blogged:

This video says a lot about what is going on in Chile. While the government has tried to portray the students as ideological, or manipulated by ideologies, or just as molotov-throwing criminals, here we see something else. It is, of course, somewhat romanticised, but it is not too far off, and portrays something far closer to what most Chileans see than to what the government is suggesting

The U.S. Embassy urges its citizens to stay away from the action and “use common sense” when faced with potentially dangerous situations. But Eileen Smith, an American expatriate from Brooklyn, New York, brought her camera into the heat of the August 9 student protest comprised of, who she called, “149,999 of my closest friends.”

Smith wrote on Bearshapedsphere:

The teargassing was my fault. I was at a lovely, kms-long protest with singing and drumming and pretty pretty signs and great cleverness, and I went to go investigate what I knew to be a conflict zone. Bad me.

Several others from outside of Chile also said they side with the students on education reform. Lebo Sililo, an English teacher in Santiago from Johannesburg, South Africa, said, “I don’t feel threatened. I would join them if I wasn’t a foreigner.”

Adrien Fallou, 21, flew away from his home near Paris to intern in the upper-class neighborhood of Las Condes, Santiago, for the past two months. He said, “I don't really feel that the protest make the city any more dangerous because what you actually see is mostly peaceful students marching.”

Many other embassies, such as France, Ireland and South Africa have not alerted their citizens in Chile to avoid the marches.

Fallou said that he has crossed paths with protesting students and riot police stationed on street corners in Paris, while studying in the 6th arrondissement. “I don't think students protest that often in the US, so I guess it's not surprising the U.S. Embassy would issue a warning, as American citizens might be more easily surprised when arriving in Santiago.”

Although clashes between police and demonstrators destroyed millions of dollars of property, so far, the marches “have had a minimal impact on travel and business,” and the U.S. doesn’t advise against traveling to Chile according to Watzlavick.

Katie Manning reports for www.MiVoz.cl, which publishes 15 citizen journalism news sites across the provinces of Chile. Read more about our partnership with Mi Voz here.
  • Patricio

    Thanks you ! Very good job Saludos From Chile.

  • st1 wall

    The article neglects to mention that all of the demonstrations planned for the 24th and 25th are illegal and that foreigners participating in them are subject to immediate expulsion. To characterize the protests as mainly peaceful and safe despite millions of dollars of damage to private and public property seems uninformed or dishonest. Those two ideas don’t go together.
    The US Embassy is right to warn about the protests, and not just because it is uncommon in the US and might surprise people. 1) There is the always a possibility of the protests turning violent, it only takes a couple people agitating the crowd to get violence going. 2) There is the possibility of being caught in the police reaction to violence or perceived threats of violence, including water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. 3) There is the possibility of being deported.
    As an expat in Chile I am not losing sleep over it because I stay informed, stay far away from planned demonstrations, etc… to avoid potential problems. I also encourage my friends to stay away. One may or may not agree with the goals or ideas of the protests, but stay away from illegal manifestations.

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