Outside the protesting zone, people in Santiago, Chile live a normal life. (Photo: Global Times)
Chile's withdrawal of its hosting of the 2019 APEC summit and the COP25 climate change summit shocked the world.
Chile has been considered as a model in Latin America, but this image has collapsed. The country's instability has turned the region's "oasis" of economic prosperity into an economic desert.
The Global Times reporter left Brazil for Chile on October 31. The line at the airport was busy as usual.
However, due to Chile's turbulent social situation, half of the seats on the plane were empty. Most passengers were Chileans returning to their country. Many passengers could lie down across multiple seats.
Even though the APEC and COP25 were canceled in Chile, banners of the two international summits were still hung in the airport.
The way from the airport to the hotel was full of traffic. More people were driving their own cars as public transportation had been shut down. October 31 was a public holiday in Chile. Cyclists passed alongside families going shopping and walking their dogs. Young people enjoyed beer in celebration of the festivities.
There was no sign of protesters waving banners on the street or sounds of gunshots in the air. But 3 kilometers away from the hotel, protesters gathered to show a totally different Santiago.
Under the Great Santiago Tower, the large shopping mall was closed as if to remind passersby that things were different. A local resident said the mall had closed for more than a week. "There are many shops inside, as well as the supermarket. But they dare not to open as it is a special time."
At the scene of the protests, graffiti and posters painted the city wall, and the sound of beating pots and pans grew louder and louder.
The protesters, wearing square scarves or masks, were setting fires or fanning. Peddlers selling water or iced beer were busy walking through the crowd.
Suddenly a tear bomb came down, and the crowd scattered. When the smoke disappeared, they gathered again.
"Why are you here?" the Global Times reporter asked a protester, who looked like a student. "To seek a better life," he said.
On the way to the protest, Manuel stopped the reporter, saying there would be tear gas. Forty-year-old Manuel worked as a security guard. "They could live a good life. But they gathered together to protest every afternoon, just like 'going to work.' Why can't they just find a job? But anyway, some people do have a hard life."
Since 1973, after a US-backed coup, Chile became a testing ground for neoliberalism, a practice of allowing the private sector to enter every area of life. Trade and a highly-liberated economy have since been considered a cornerstone in the country.
However, the country has also suffered a big gap between the rich and the poor. Investments in education are also small, which has created more social problems.
In 2017, 1 percent of people controlled 26.5 percent of the country's wealth, while 50 percent of low-income workers only owned 2.1 percent of properties. Those who earn less had to spend 30 percent of their income to take the subway.
Manuel said that for some young people, life was really difficult. Some of them are drowning in debt.
"Most Chileans are educated. Most of the protesters will not hurt others," Fernando, a retired man, told the Global Times. "It means they would not beat you or rob you. But look what else they did, arson, breaking windows, graffiti, and damaging subways."
Violence has caused the closure of many regions in Santiago. The subway system suffered a loss of $400 million, and Santiago companies a loss of $1.4 billion.
"I am also a young person and have pressure in life," Angelo, a local driver, said with anger, "But is riot democracy? Messing the country is not a democracy!"
The National Television of Chile kept airing the news of Chile's withdrawal as the host of the APEC summit and COP 25. A commentator said that the country's image in the world has been damaged, which could not be made up with the money.
Are there really two Santiagos, or two Chiles? "There is only one," Angelo said. "The one you saw before was with make-up, but now you see the real Santiago."