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Chileans approved rewriting of dictatorship-era constitution seen as symbol of neo-liberal economic model, amid one-year anniversary of protests over inequalities. Referendum on new constitution, one key demand of protesters in late 2019, held 25 Oct; 79% in favour of instituting specially elected body of citizens to draft new constitution to be submitted to referendum by mid-2022, paving way for end to constitution in place since General Augusto Pinochet’s military rule (1973-1990). In celebration, tens of thousands gathered overnight 25-26 Oct in capital Santiago’s central square. Earlier in month, series of demonstrations took place to commemorate one-year anniversary of Oct 2019 protests over austerity and inequalities, which left some 20 people dead. During anti-govt protest in Santiago, policeman 2 Oct reportedly pushed teenage boy from bridge into Mapocho river; as demonstrators circulated video of incident, Office of the Ombudsman for Children same day denounced “attempted homicide” by police forces; police next day denied allegations, while govt ordered investigation. Thousands 19 Oct protested in cities across country, notably against police brutality; several riots and looting incidents reported; notably, masked individuals set fire to police headquarters and two churches in Santiago.
Demonstrators returned to streets in early March to protest cost of living and inequality, but COVID-19 pandemic dampened marches and forced delay in plebiscite on constitutional reform. Demonstrations turned violent in capital Santiago and cities of Antofagasta, Temuco and Concepción 2 March, police detained 300 people. Thousands protested in Santiago’s Plaza Italia 6 March and reportedly clashed with police. Hundreds of thousands attended women’s march in Santiago and other major cities 8 March, echoing criticism of political system voiced since Oct 2019. About 70 unidentified armed individuals 9 March attacked police station in Lo Espejo near Santiago, no casualty reported and three assailants reportedly arrested. Amid coronavirus outbreak, President Piñera 18 March declared 90-day state of catastrophe; all political parties 19 March agreed to postpone plebiscite on whether to draft new constitution, originally scheduled for 26 April, to 25 Oct, and to hold second vote to elect members of constituent assembly on 11 April 2021 alongside municipal and regional elections; parliament 24 March approved new calendar.
Anti-govt protests continued. President Piñera 4 Feb released roadmap of policy priorities for 2020 including constitutional reform, public order and pension system reform, which constitute central demand of protestors. Demonstrators 7 Feb burned down museum in capital Santiago and convened new mobilisations for first week of March, as school year resumes and country commemorates victims of military dictatorship; dozens of masked protestors 23 Feb clashed with police outside music festival in Viña del Mar, targeting public building and looting local shops; at least 23 police officers injured and fifteen people arrested. EU foreign policy chief Borrell 13 Feb expressed concerns over “disproportionate response” of police after clashes with protesters left four dead late Jan. Govt 13 Feb said 2,600 policemen would receive training in coming weeks on how to minimise abuses. Senate 4 Feb voted down indictment against Santiago’s Intendent Felipe Guevara, accused of violating constitutional right to free association by filling central square with 1,400 troops to prevent demonstrations in Dec 2019. Attorney General 19 Feb opened investigation into Director General of Police Mario Rozas over allegations of crimes against humanity in handling of recent protests. Campaign for 26 April plebiscite on constitutional reform started 26 Feb.
Anti-govt protests continued at lower intensity, while govt moved forward with preparations for plebiscite on constitutional reform. Demonstrations reduced to once a week in capital Santiago, and occasionally elsewhere but clashes between protesters and security forces continued. Notably, protesters 3 Jan set fire to San Francisco de Borja church in Santiago, dedicated to serving national police; security forces 24 Jan fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters in Santiago. Govt moved ahead with preparations for 26 April plebiscite on whether to draft new constitution, and whether members of future special constituent assembly should all be elected or half should be elected and half should be current members of parliament. 23 parties announced support for constitutional reform, six opposed. President Piñera 15 Jan proposed reform to pension system, core issue in protests. Public opinion poll which surveyed 1,496 people 16 Jan showed distrust of institutions continuing to grow, with 5% trusting govt, 3% Congress, 2% political parties, and 6% approving of Piñera.
Anti-govt protests continued across country at lower intensity, although with continued clashes between demonstrators and security forces, while govt moved forward with non-binding consultation referendum and constitutional reform project. Police 6 Dec arrested 136 people during violent protests in Santiago and other major cities; prosecutor’s office reported they have detained over 30,000 protesters, charged 20,000 and placed 2,000 in pre-trial custody since beginning of protests in Oct. More than two million people from 225 of 346 national communes 15 Dec participated in non-binding civil consultation referendum; 92% of participants agreed to new constitution and govt prioritisation of pensions, health and education. Chamber of Representatives 18 Dec approved constitutional reform project detailing measures for formal referendum and subsequent procedures to elect national constituent assembly, President Piñera 27 Dec signed decree that set 26 April 2020 as date for referendum. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 13 Dec released report on protest violence; said police responded in “fundamentally repressive manner”, leading to 26 deaths and 4,903 people injured, including 2,792 police. Judge 27 Dec remanded in custody six Chilean police officers, accused of torturing and sexually assaulting protester at police station during curfew imposed during first days of protests. Reported rate of dissatisfaction with President Piñera rose to 80% according to survey by pollsters Cadem despite reduction in unrest and reforms.
Mass anti-austerity protests continued across country, with ongoing incidents of violence, looting and clashes between demonstrators and security forces. President Piñera 7 Nov announced tightened security measures to counter vandalism, looting and rioting. In response to protesters’ demands, govt 11 Nov agreed to schedule referendum in April 2020 on whether to draft new constitution, and whether to create special constituent assembly. UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet 8 Nov sent fact-finding mission to investigate alleged abuses, including cases of excessive force, while public prosecutor reported over 2,000 allegations of human rights violations by security forces; President Piñera acknowledged some abuses in handling of protests but vowed commitment to investigation and prosecution of cases. Violent protests resurged from 22 Nov, prompting parliament 27 Nov to agree to advance security reforms, acknowledging “crisis of violence and vandalism that threatens our democracy”. Three people killed in protests during Nov, including thirteen-year-old boy who died after being hit by vehicle in Arica 21 Nov as he was taking part in roadblock; total of 23 people killed since protests began in Oct.
Unrest rocked country as escalating anti-austerity protests led to incidents of looting and clashes between security forces and demonstrators, with some twenty people killed. Protests in capital Santiago against increased public transport prices turned violent 18 Oct as protesters threw stones, attacked police vehicles and burnt at least one bus, while anti-riot police used tear gas and batons against demonstrators. President Piñera declared state of emergency in capital, later extended to other cities as protests and clashes with police spread, increasingly focused on cost of living in general and inequality; curfews imposed in Santiago, Valparaíso, Coquimbo and Biobío. By 27 Oct some 20 people reported killed nationwide (including five people killed in Santiago garment factory reportedly torched by looters); National Institute for Human Rights reported 546 people suffered firearms injuries. Interior Minister said govt had deployed 10,500 police and soldiers. UN Human rights chief Bachelet 24 Oct announced “verification mission” to examine allegations of rights violations, with govt’s consent. Piñera 23 Oct announced 20% increase in basic pensions and proposal for state to finance expensive medical treatments. Over a million people reportedly joined peaceful rally in Santiago 25 Oct. State of emergency lifted 27 October; Piñera dismissed his cabinet, however protests and unrest continued. Govt 30 Oct pulled out of hosting Nov Apec trade forum and Dec UN climate change conference
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