Santiago, Chile, Mar 16, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The Standing Committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference has expressed its concern over the time that has gone by since the outbreak of protests in the country without lawmakers making decisions to address the demands made by the public.

Anti-government demonstrations began in mid-October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.

A number of churches across Chile have been attacked and looted amid the demonstrations.

Protest marches in Chile often start our peacefully, but end up with clashes between the police and masked protesters, who often turn to attacking churches as well as public and private property.

Police and demonstrators have clashed and the police have used excessive force in  an attempt to restore order, resulting in hundreds of eye injuries due to the use of rubber bullets. At the end of December the death toll from the protests stood at least 27, according to the AP.

The committee said that “almost five months have gone by and Chile’s awakening has not been addressed with the speed and effectiveness expected in such grave matters as the unjust distribution of income, employment instability, minimum wages and pensions, the urgent need for access to healthcare, the just valuation of women in society and the protection of the most vulnerable groups, among other issues.”

“We see that the main demands of society … have been put off in the priorities of those who make the decisions in Chile,” the bishops pointed out.

The prelates said that they shared  “people’s reasonable discontentment with regard to the role that the authorities, legislators, and political and social leaders are assuming in face of these dramas.”

“We don’t understand why the necessary corrections that are promised aren’t making progress with the desired speed. The level of the political debate is disappointing with partisan squabbling and infighting, special interests or those of certain sectors of society, that are holding back agreements and accomplishments that would help the common good. Chile demands a fruitful dialogue in a context of civic friendship,” they stated.

The committee pointed out that the episodes of violence “always harm the poorest people and violate people’s rights, are continuously reoccurring in various parts of the country and create a climate of fear and uncertainty which is doing grave harm.”

“We can’t let ourselves be overcome by this spiral of violence and terror. Democracy is a good that we must all care for,” they said.

The protests have put pressure on the administration of President Sebastián Piñera to introduce reforms, in addition to calling for the drafting of a constitution to replace that adopted in 1980 under Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

This demand was accepted by the country’s politicians in November 2019 and an agreement was created to go forward. The first step will be a citizen plebiscite, to be held April 26.

Voters will have to decide whether they want a new constitution, and if so, what kind of body should work on it: a Mixed Constitutional Convention composed of an equal number of legislators and representatives of the citizens, or a “Constitutional Convention” comprised only of people chosen by the citizenry.

The Standing Committee asked people to “calmly and confidently prepare” for that vote and that “for our vote be informed, it’s necessary to know (the problems), to reflect and discern on a personal, family, and communitarian level.”

The bishops encouraged people to work in community on the resources posted on the their website which will help them “understand how worthwhile it is to be present and participate in all the country’s important decisions.”

The Standing Committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference encouraged people to “not be afraid and to renew our hope in Jesus in this time of Lent which looks to the Resurrection of the Lord.”

“We can’t let ourselves be carried away with despair and fatalism. Let us continue to pray to Our Lady of Mount Carmel for Chile, for peace and justice, which are the pillars of a society that puts at the center the life and dignity of the person and the promotion of the common good,” they concluded.

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