CHURCH leaders in Chile have condemned the violence that has left at least 20 people dead, and have urged the government to apologise for its failure to recognise the depth of public concern over austerity measures.
Mass protests have taken place across the country for more than a week, triggered by a rise, now suspended, in metro fares in Santiago. At least one million people turned out for a demonstration at the weekend against the country’s levels of inequality.
As a result of the unrest, the Chilean government announced on Wednesday that it will not host the global climate-change summit due to have taken place in Santiago in a few weeks’ time.
Church leaders wrote to the President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, who has declared a state of emergency and imposed curfews as part of a robust police response, urging him to talk to protesters.
They said: “It will not be possible to restore public order and governance without restoring trust, and for this it is necessary that your Government, but also the other political sectors, make credible gestures of recognition and ask for forgiveness for not having been able to discern the depth of the citizen outrage. Undoubtedly, the restoration of the rule of law is a fundamental step to make possible a constructive dialogue that allows progress in the social transformations that Chile needs.”
The Protestant church leaders said that they recognised that their own “prolonged silence also makes us complicit and co-responsible for the accumulated tension”.
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said that he fully supported the Churches’ response. ”The future of democracy and social justice in Chile [is] at stake,” he said.
The general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Revd Dr Martin Junge, said that inequality and injustice had pushed people on to the streets. “Let this be a time to address the root causes,” he said. “Violence is not the way to solve the issue.”
The cancelled climate talks, COP25, were due to be the last before the UK hosted them in December 2020 in Glasgow. This is a crucial year in the fight against global warming: the Paris Agreement comes into force, and countries are expected to strengthen their national climate action plans that make up the accord.
President Piñera announced that, as well as the COP 25 summit, Chile would also no longer host the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting because of protests at government policies seen to benefit the economic elite.
This is the second time COP25 has changed venue; it was originally scheduled to be held in Brazil before Jair Bolsonaro won the 2018 presidential election and pulled out.
The late suspension of the talks means they will now likely take place in early 2020. Unless a new country can be found to host the meeting, which usually takes more than a year to prepare, it may be held in Bonn, Germany, where the UN’s climate secretariat, the UNFCCC, has its headquarters.
Its executive secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said that she had been contacted by Chile’s environment minster and president of COP25, Carolina Schmidt. She said: “We are discussing next steps, and will share additional information with you once it is available.”
Christian Aid’s senior adviser on climate change for Latin America, Dr Alejandro González, said that the news was regrettable: “The fact that this COP would be held in Latin America and the Caribbean would have given us an excellent opportunity to discuss the challenges the region has in the face of an unfair system that deepens climate-change effects while driving profound inequalities.
“The protests in Chile are an important reminder that transformation must be undertaken to address both inequality and the climate crisis, and that climate justice and social justice cannot be treated separately.”