Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why Chile's Military Finds Itself in a No-Win Situation as it Faces Protesters

It didn't take long for Chile's military to register its first casualties in the country's mass protests. In the city of Curicó, an Army soldier is being held in the shooting death of a 25-year-old protester. In La Serena, an Ecuadorian man was killed by gunfire that is said to have come from a military patrol. In Coquimbo another fatal shooting may have been caused by troops. In Talcahuano, a man was run over by a military truck. These and other incidents are making the military's role one that's increasingly difficult and controversial -- and one it didn't want. The armed forces reluctantly joined the efforts to pacify thousands of demonstrators. Asked about President Sebastian Piñera's description of events as a "war," Army chief Gen. Javier Iturriaga replied, "I am not at war with anyone." Indeed, the military finds itself in a tough spot, facing hostile crowds and unable to control the crisis the way it did in 2010. Back then, troops took to the streets to stop looting in the wake of a great earthquake. People welcomed soldiers. But this time, the armed forces are combatants. It didn't help that before this month's violent outbreak, several cases of corruption had tarnished the military's reputation. Gen. Iturriaga and other commanders may spend years dealing with consequences of the October revolt.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Military Breaks Long Tradition Of Avoiding Protests As Chile Struggles To Control Riots

For the first time since military rule, Chile's Army and Marines have been ordered into the streets to quell massive protests. The order came after protesters set fire to subway stations, buses and stores in Santiago in a movement that quickly spread to other provinces. President Sebastian Piñera, overwhelmed by the scale of destruction, ordered the armed forces to help restore order Oct. 19. Much of the country was place under a state of emergency. Defense Minister Alberto Espina said troops were deployed to protect critical infrastructure installations, such as power plants and water facilities, that were threatened or came under attack. But troops are also patrolling streets and facing protesters. Soldiers are armed with assault rifles and live ammunition, and shots have been fired at rioters. All this makes for a messy situation for Chile's military, which had stayed away from public strife since the return of democracy nearly 30 years ago. Troops were deployed after the February 2010 earthquake to control massive looting. But this time, the military is in the thick of a political convulsion that has no easy or short-term answers. Troops are facing threats that are not part of their regular training, creating a risky mix of tension and firepower. As of Sunday, Oct. 20, troops remained on patrol with Humvees, trucks, Mowag 6x6 and 8x8 armored vehicles. More than 9,000 troops were deployed over the weekend, but even then it was not enough to cover all the flashpoints. Local television showed some neighborhoods organizing their own security, with whatever weapons they could muster.