Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting a Read on Internal Security Issues

As protests continue, 2011 is going down as the most politically violent year in Chile since the return of democracy in 1990. For months, student groups have taken to the streets demanding reforms in the education system. Some protests turned quite violent, with students throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at police. At least one store was set ablaze during one riot. Police have responded with water cannon and tear gas, suffering scores of injuries and in a few cases even gunshot wounds. The shooting death of one teenager by police further inflamed protesters, some of whom are left-wing extremists happy to pound on the conservative government and destroy businesses. While the scenes from Santiago and other cities are dismaying, the country is far from being paralyzed. Protests are noisy and disruptive but not violent the majority of the time. Student and government leaders are in talks, which has cooled the crisis to some degree. Still, there are extremist elements that threaten to undermine the progress in negotiations. For example, Carabineros found bomb-making materials at one university. Meanwhile, the conflict with the native community shows no sign of abating. This month, Mapuche militants fired at police guarding a ranch that has been a flashpoint of the long conflict. In another recent incident, a rancher is accused of shooting a 13-year-old and wounding him after an altercation. Like the student conflict, the Mapuche war remains contained to certain troublespots in the south of Chile.

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