A Perth man teaching English abroad has given an eyewitness account of anti-government protests in Chile which have resulted in 15 deaths in under a week.
Citizens in the capital Santiago have clashed with police and soldiers after violence erupted over a mass fare-evasion by high school pupils in protest at a metro ticket price hike.
President Sebastian Pinera has since declared a state of emergency across the South American nation, and has introduced state-enforced curfews, tackling protesters with water cannons and tear gas.
Former Perth High School student Ronan Ogilvy moved to the Santiago in August to start a one year placement teaching English and said he is witnessing “history unfolding before his eyes.”
The 23-year-old said: “There’s a really mixed feeling here. It’s really energised people as there has been growing frustration about social problems and inequality bubbling under the surface.
“Metro tickets were already more expensive than in New York and the increase was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The minimum wage here is only around £300 per month.
“The protests became more generally anti-government, rather than around the single issue and broke out sporadically.
“Riot police and soldiers were very heavy handed when dealing with spontaneous protests, which are legitimate and from what I’ve seen, largely peaceful. Most protesters are unarmed and have come up against water cannons and tear gas.
“I’m seeing history unfolding before my eyes, which is exciting but it’s scary. My flatmate has seen somebody die.”
So far, the Chilean government believes that more than 2,500 people have been arrested and dozens have been injured by firearms.
Ronan, who hails from Perth’s Gannochy area, fell victim to both measures of protester control used by the state when he visited Santiago’s main Plaza Italia and had to stay with a friend when police cordoned off his neighbourhood.
A week after the initial scuffles, arson attacks and and rioting have brought the country to a standstill but Ronan believes the government is “happy to play the long game.”
“The police are stretched and they’re playing cat and mouse with protesters and have introduced curfews since Saturday.
“Sometimes we’ve only had two hours notice that they would be coming into effect. They’re across Chile, not just Santiago. They’re being resisted though.
“Most protesters are in their 20s and 30s. They’re supported by older people though, who are often too scared to come outside as they remember the coup d’etat in 1973.”
With access to basic services cut off during the riots, Ronan says the torrid situation has brought out the best in people.
He said: “A citizen’s assembly in my neighbourhood, Barrio Yungay was held a couple of nights ago.
“The short term goals are to support each other and make sure our neighbours are safe at night during the curfew and has transport to get home if a curfew is called at short notice.”