Coronavirus: Protesters demanding food aid clash with police in Santiago

Battle of Santiago

A woman is detained after shouting slogans against riot police at a poor neighborhood where people are protesting the lack of help from the government, during a general quarantine imposed due to a surge of fresh coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, at 'El Bosque' area in Santiago, Chile May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Dozens of people demanding government aid amidst a COVID-19 lockdown clashed with police on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile, on Monday.

Police and protesters clashed in Santiago on Monday amid a city-wide lockdown meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus as local officials warned that food shortages had hit one of the Chilean capital’s poorest neighborhoods.

A group of protesters threw rocks, shouted and burned piles of wood along a street in the destitute neighborhood on Santiago’s southern fringe. Images on social media and local television showed police spraying tear gas and water cannons to disperse the growing crowd.

The municipality said in a statement that families were going hungry in the poorest sectors of El Bosque, a neighborhood where many work informally, or not at all. The city district has been under quarantine since mid-April, city officials said in a statement.

“The last weeks we have had a great demand from neighbors for food,” El Bosque Mayor Sadi Melo, of Chile’s opposition Socialist party, told Radio BioBio. “We are in a very complex situation of hunger and lack of work.”

Santiago is one of Latin America’s most prosperous cities. But a stark rich-poor divide and a growing sense of inequality prompted mass protests in late 2019. Many of the demands lodged by protesters last year, from increased pensions to higher pay, remain unresolved.

In a statement, Melo’s office said El Bosque had distributed more than 2,000 aid packages to the neediest families. But it warned the central government “not to continue to burden municipalities with an economic responsibility we cannot cover”.

Chile’s centre-right president, Sebastian Piñera, said in a televised address later on Sunday that his government would deliver 2.5 million baskets of food and cleaning supplies directly to homes by late this week or early next.

“We will prioritize the most vulnerable families,” Piñera said, calling the planned delivery of food “historic”.

Chile has already announced a massive stimulus package worth nearly 7% of GDP to ease the economic impact of the pandemic, although opposition leaders and social groups have criticized the package as inadequate.

The government’s proposed measures include beefed-up unemployment checks, deferred tax payments and government-backed credit lines for small business.

Chile surpassed 40,000 cases of the new coronavirus last week amid a sharp spike in infections that has seen hospitals approach collapse in the weeks ahead of the Southern Hemisphere winter. The country now has 46,059 total cases and 478 deaths. (Merco Press)