I was in Santiago during a time of ongoing protests. A large student movement had formed to decry the rising cost of college. Student protests occurred frequently. Sometimes tens of thousands of young people marched in the streets, carrying signs and chanting. Santiago’s police, called carbiñeros, would show up to these protests in green military style vehicles, some fiited with powerful water cannons. One vehicle even had a nozzle which dispensed a continuous stream of tear gas. In this video there’s a scene showing a number of these vehicles parked on the street.
The language institute where I worked did a pretty good job of warning its employees about impending protests. Avoiding the protests was the sensible thing to do. Battles between the carabiñeros and students often became ugly. Many students armed themselves with balloons filled with paint, which they hurled at the windscreens of the police vehicles. Street punks also showed up to the protests, seeking to do little more than vandalize property. Some of the battles lasted for more than an hour. Most protests ended with students being hosed to the pavement by water cannons and tear gas shot all over the place. More than a few young folks were arrested and taken away in forest green paddy wagon.
During these conflicts the carabiñeros used prodigious amounts of tear gas. On two occasions I was on a public bus which drove through the immediate aftermath of a protest and a lingering plume of tear gas. Before living in Santiago, I’d never experienced tear gas. Let me tell you that it’s no joke. The first time I felt its affect, I almost had a full blown anxiety attack as my eyes and nose burned and my throat began to constrict. I felt sorry for the older people on the bus, who were clearly suffering immensely.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression about Santiago or Chile. Nearly every day in Santiago was sunny and peaceful, as reflected in the content of this video.
As with my other videos of Santiago, I included snippets of street musicians. The men with a bass drum strapped to their back are called Chinchineros. These musicians are unique to Chile and a wonder to behold. While playing his drum and working his symbol, a Chinchinero will dance and whirl about rapidly. Sometimes when I was feeling low on energy or down in the dumps, I’d seek out one of these performers. Watching a Chinchinero perform and feeling the thumping rhythm was a guaranteed pick me up.