New clashes in Chile as peso drops to historic low
SANTIAGO: Violent protests broke out in Chile’s capital Santiago on Tuesday as the country’s currency dropped to a historic low after weeks of mass street demonstrations that have left the South American country in crisis.
Clashes broke out between protesters demanding the resignation of President Sebastian Pinera and security forces close to the presidential palace.
Some 80,000 people took to the streets of Santiago as 100 organizations called a general strike.
The demonstrators are demanding greater social reform from Pinera, who has announced several measures in a bid to appease protesters, including a pledge to change the constitution that dates from the 1973-90 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
Pinera on Tuesday announced the recall of retired police officers to help curb the unrest, but did not re-issue a state of emergency, as he did at the outbreak of the crisis, which would allow the deployment of the military.
“The discontent is over many things,” said Karen Delgado, one of the protesters.
“Everything the president has offered is insufficient. It’s a joke,” added the 29-year-old office worker.
Demonstrators congregated at the Plaza Italia square, the epicenter of previous protests that have now lasted almost four weeks.
They marched to seat of the workers’ union — the most powerful one in Chile — before moving on towards the presidential palace.
“We’re asking the president to listen and to stop delaying with these half-baked measures. He’s not listening to the people,” said Delgado.
Hooded protesters set a restaurant on fire in the area of the Plaza Italia and ransacked a hotel, torching its furniture.
Looting and clashes with police also took place elsewhere in Santiago, and a church in the historic neighborhood of Lastarria was burned.
Currency hits record low
There were also clashes in the southern city of Concepcion, and a military compound was attacked in the town of San Antonio.
Several shops were looted in the coastal town of Vina del Mar and popular tourist destination Valparaiso, in the center of the country.
A miners’ union took part in the march but the Codelco state mining company was operating as normal on Tuesday.
Public schools and universities in the capital were closed while many private schools also called off classes due to safety concerns.
Public transport appeared to be operating normally in Santiago, although buses stopped running at 5:00 pm while the city’s metro shortened its opening hours.
Chile’s currency dropped more than three percent to a record low of 784 pesos to the dollar.
The peso actually dropped to 800 during the day, well beyond the previous record of 761, from October 10, 2002, before recovering slightly at close.
The currency has been hit hard by the protests against the economic policies of right-wing leader Pinera.
It was trading at 709 to the dollar on October 18 when the protests erupted into violence.
“It’s a sign of concern that we’re looking at closely,” said Finance Minister Ignacio Briones.
Briones said the currency fluctuation would “have an impact on prices, inflation and the entire portfolio of goods we consume.”
The Santiago stock exchange fell 1.57 percent, recovering slightly after having dropped 3.38 percent by midday.
In a statement, the central bank said the peso’s drop was “expected in the context of the greater uncertainty that we’re seeing.”
Analysts Capital Economics said the peso’s fall and Tuesday’s strikes would “push up inflation” and predicted that sustained unrest would weaken growth, which it said would be lower than its previously downgraded prediction of 2.5 percent.