Salyha became obsessed with hula hooping a few years ago, but if you call it that she'll reply, "It's not 'hula' hooping, it's 'hoop dance'". Tonight her obsession randomly led us into a riot. The new 'hoop dance' group she has joined in Santiago Chile was meeting up to walk in the city's annual womens' march. Over the past month that we've lived here, the few protests we've seen only consisted of a couple hundred people. And so it came as quite a surprise to see tens of thousands of people gathering around the east end of Parque Forestal.
The first sign of any tension could have easily gone unnoticed amid the extreme jubilation of the growing crowds. Federal police officers called 'Carabineros' are a regular sight all over the capitol, but tonight they were taking on a much more active approach. They patrolled the park on fleets of small green motorcycles, often surrounding random people to check identification and search backpacks, then moving on to another randomly selected person.
For four hours a human mass of drummers, dancers and flag wavers slowly made its way west down the wide avenue called O'Higgins. By nightfall, there were some subtle signs among the crowd that that this was more than just a womens' march. Masked individuals stood atop bus stop shelters waving anti-capitalist signs. A large group of nearly naked painted women suddenly displayed lit torches as their previously happy-sounding hoots turned to increasingly angry chants. Large commercial fire extinguishers were sprayed into the air from time to time, causing waves of coughing as all the people and surfaces were covered in fine gritty mist. The apparently looted fire extinguishers were then discarded on the roadsides.
Still, the overall atmosphere remained peaceful and lighthearted, including no shortage of small children and babies in strollers. There were no longer any Carabineros among the crowds, as they were only present at intersections to prevent the human and vehicle traffic from interfering with each other. The march route ended just past the massive presidential palace, called La Moneda. Groups of people were stopped in this area, singing and dancing in the middle of the street, drinking beers sold from shopping carts. Seeing a mass of flashing police vehicle lights in the distance at the end of the route, we then stopped to browse among these partying groups.
This is when the first sign of real trouble appeared, as several hundred people ran through the crowd coming from the direction of the flashing police lights. Still a couple blocks away from that location, we couldn't determine what had caused the mass exodus. The angry painted naked girls then arrived, looking even more mischievous as they disposed of all their torches into a big burning heap. This inspired the sudden spontaneous collecting of trash bags from all nearby public trash cans, with a formidable wall of combustible garbage soon appearing across the roadway. One of the angry painted women then appeared to douse the pile with a clear liquid.
A wall of flames quickly rose up above the crowd. The flashing lights were moving towards us within a minute. In the darkness I at first thought that the big square approaching vehicles were fire trucks. Realizing they were actually huge armored water cannons, we took off running at the moment the turrets unleashed their steams upon the crowd.
This is when we encountered the man bearing a 4-foot wooden cross, who took his first available opportunity to hurl his burden onto the windshield of smaller armored vehicle that was passing by. Several dozen riot police with batons and shields had suddenly appeared and were running towards the crowd. We found ourselves crushed into a small passageway, unable to resist the flow of the crowd. The trampeling caused several skirmishes among the crushed people, but the skirmishes were simply pushed along with everything else until the mass of people emerged into a wider space. The Carabineros had apparently been bluffing, as they were no longer present.
Retracing the march route to its origin, every wall, bus stop and statue was absolutely covered in spray paint and glued posters, proclaiming things such as, "Take back your life, attack the police", and "Rob the supermarket".
As it turns out, this year was a relatively peaceful Womens' March. Here's 2012 below:
In conclusion, I'll note that so far our experience with the Chilean people has been very positive. Even in the heat of the moment tonight, we did not witness a single act of violence between protesters or against journalists, as has become so common in other more 'developed' parts of the world. Tonights' aggression was directed at that which is perceived to perpetuate one of the highest income gaps in the world: http://www.oecd.org/social/inequality.htm
While Chilean minimum wage remains at about $400 per month, the costs of many basic goods and services are roughly the same as the more 'developed' world: https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_countries_result.jsp?country1=Chile&country2=United+States
So to rest of the world where protests have become fight clubs in the streets, and to the police who continue to defend those that enslave them......recognize that you've been pitted against one another and turn your collective anger against our true fundamental enemy....the US Dollar-based global economy.
Let us together light more of these fires in the halls of our federal reserves and multi-national banks. Burn the Dollar, not each other.
Lastly, here is a more comprehensive video of the event last night, edited by Salyha:
And a collection of images: https://imgur.com/a/HDgqz