As anger and protests in Chile have escalated into violence and caused 18 deaths, the World Council of Churches’ general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has joined other church leaders in calling for a cessation of violence and a mechanism for addressing its root causes.
“I want to express our solidarity with the churches and people of Chile in this situation,” said Tveit. “We fully support the churches in their call for adequate responses to the situation by the government and the people, addressing the root causes for this unrest. In this crisis we see the future of democracy and social justice in Chile at stake.”
After protests initiated by students in Santiago on 16 October over a rise in the price of public transport were met with a strong response by police, the protests widened beyond the students to engage the broader public, workers’ unions and other organizations in several cities, encompassing other issues of concern, including low wages, access to healthcare and economic inequality. Protesters have called for the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera Echenique, despite his mandating an increase in wages and in taxes on the wealthy.
Vandalism and violence have triggered a forceful police response, leading to deaths, thousands of detentions, and a government-declared state of emergency with curfews.
WCC member churches, together with ecumenical partners, have been speaking out about the situation. Calling for peace and condemning acts of violence, they are urging the Chilean government to address underlying inequalities in the country.
Citing widespread economic and social problems, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chile (IELCH), a WCC member church, pointed to deeper problems sparking the street violence, saying, “What we saw and lived last night in Santiago was the manifestation of a disagreement and silent rage that was contained in the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of our society. And this demonstration is not silenced by repression by the state. It is unfortunate that the government does not have the capacity and willingness to realize that our country is not the oasis of Latin America as the President has declared, but a country with tremendous social inequalities.”
Himself from Chile, Rev. Dr Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, also echoed those convictions, saying, “Difficult and shocking as this is, there are underlying causes that contribute to this eruption of social rage: inequalities and injustices experienced by the people of Chile. Let this be a time to address the root causes. Violence is not the way to solve the issue.”