Chile withdraws from summits as street protests gain ground
Thousands of Chileans have shut down parts of cities as promises of government reform on inequality fall short
Santiago — Chile has withdrawn as host of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) trade summit in November and the COP25 climate summit in December after several weeks of violent unrest, President Sebastián Piñera announced on Wednesday.
The Apec summit was scheduled to bring together 20 world leaders, including US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, from November 16-17. The COP25 programme was due to run between December 2 and 13.
“This has been a very difficult decision, a decision that causes us a lot of pain, because we fully understand the importance of Apec and COP25 for Chile and for the world,” Piñera said in a brief statement from La Moneda palace in Santiago.
Chileans took to the streets again this week, pouring by the thousands into plazas and shutting down main boulevards in a sign that government promises of reform continue to fall short. On Tuesday night, vandals wreaked havoc in parts of Santiago, looting, setting fires and sowing chaos amid a melee of sirens, protesters banging pots and heavy black smoke.
Piñera’s newly appointed spokesperson Karla Rubilar condemned the mayhem, saying it did not reflect the wishes of the majority. “The violence is overtaking the legitimate demands of the social movement,” Rubilar said. She called on all Chileans, from soccer players to cultural icons, to reject the rioting.
At the weekend, more than a million Chileans marched peacefully against inequality in Santiago, the largest protest since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990. The continuing unrest in Chile follows a week of riots, arson and protests over inequality that have resulted in at least 18 dead and 7,000 arrested, prosecutors said.
Chilean businesses lost more than $1.4bn. The city’s metro suffered nearly $400m in damages.
Chile, the world’s top copper producer, has long boasted being one of Latin America’s most prosperous free-market economies. A plummeting copper price and global trade tensions, however, have dragged on the export-dependent economy and exposed entrenched inequality.
Chile’s copper and lithium mining industries had seen varying degrees of impact as of early this week. BHP said late on Tuesday that its Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, was operating at a reduced rate after union workers walked off the job for part of the day.
Elsewhere, copper miners said riots had otherwise mostly spared production, though continuing protests had hobbled port facilities, public transportation and supply chains, impacting operations.
For several days last week, indigenous protesters blocked access to lithium miner SQM’s operations in the Atacama salt flat, one of the world’s richest reserves of the ultra-light battery metal. SQM declined to comment on the impacts of the blockade.