Well the MayDay march in Santiago, #Chile, turned out to be much more eventful than any we’ve seen in Bristol or London the last few years! When the friendly guy we were chatting to said to us: “that’s teargas now, you need to run, the police here are very violent”, and everyone else ran, so did we (but thankfully not too far!). Policing of the march here turned out to be somewhat different to back in the UK – less containment, more full on militarised assault, and the marchers answered in kind, or got in first. As ritualised in its way as the UK marches, but much livelier!
We opted to start with the ‘alternative’ MayDay march (see previous article), not the one organised by the disgraced main CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores), and with it we stayed. We arrived near the junction of Alameda & Brazil in the centre just before 10am for what we thought was a 10am start, but as it turned out the march didn’t move off until after 11am. This gave us plenty of time to take in the bewildering array of banners, flags, colours, drumming bands, unions, political groups, campaigns, slogans, flyers…and realise our spanish just wasn’t up to working some things out at all when it came to the acronyms.
When the march did start there was maybe 20-30,000 (?), we were in the back half, and realised that apart from the water-cannons & armoured vehicles at the junctions, there was no uniformed police actually on the march at all. So at the side of the march what the media here calls the ‘encapuchados’, or ‘hooded ones’ in english, soon went to work with their spraycans etc (and there was a lot of them, not just 10 or 20). Nobody seemed in the least bit concerned, but after about 20 minutes they must have done something else, as that’s when we were told to ‘run’. And that was that really.
It took another 30 minutes to reach the ‘rally’ point outside the Estacion Central. The police used escalating force – teargas, water cannon & other armoured vehicles, robo-cop charges & snatch arrests – usually driving into the edge of the march before pulling back. The crowd moved backwards & forwards, side to side across the road (after pulling barriers down), and responded with stones and burning barricades. Some groups ran off down side streets, and sometimes were chased back up. Most people didn’t seem too concerned and took it in their stride – clearly this was pretty much the norm!?
All this continued around the rally point – speakers followed by a ska band – until most of the crowd had dispersed at around 1.30pm, and we found ourselves down some back streets, getting lost fast. So as things calmed down we retraced our steps back along the march route, and suffering from a dodgy ankle and a heavy cold between us, we headed back on the metro (once we found a station open) to our hostal for a loo break and a coffee.
That was our MayDay in Santiago de Chile! Here’s some pics we took (bearing in mind its not cool for gringos to take closeups on marches in south America!), and here’s a mainstream media report and pics here and here.