SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s president Sebastian Pinera on Friday insisted that truck drivers will not be allowed to block major highways while they strike to protest attacks on them in the country’s restive Arauncania province.
“We are not going to allow the taking of the highways or the interruption of the supply of food, medicine, ambulances, medical personnel or other goods,” said Pinera.
He said officials were in intense dialogue with truckers unions on their second day of an “indefinite” protest over insecurity in Arauncania, and the slow track of security reforms through Congress.
He appealed to legislators to “get cracking” on passing the reforms, but added that anyone endangering lives in the COVID-19 pandemic would be punished.
His comments came after complaints that truck drivers were from Thursday able to assemble overnight when a military curfew was in force, and blockages on key highways raising fears of supply chain interruptions as the country struggles to get back in its feet after a peak of COVID infections.
On Friday the blockages continued, though the government described these as “sporadic.”
Health minister Enrique Paris told a press conference on Friday he was “very concerned” after being told of ambulances being diverted and doctors unable to get to work.
“I call on the truckers to free the way for health personnel, ambulances and trucks carrying medical equipment or medicines,” he said.
Chile`s Prosecutor` s Office said it had opened investigations into cases of blockages since the strike started on Thursday.
The Confederation of Chilean Cargo Transport (CNTC), leading the strike, insisted it would not cut supply chains but that wanted more “concrete” solutions from government.
Jose Villagran, the CNTC’s vice-president, called for the government to declare a state of exception in Araucania.
“The constitution permits the president to declare such when there is uncontrolled crime or terrorism and he has not done so,” he said.
The Araucania has seen a spike in attacks on transport trucks and factories in recent months. The south-central region of Chile has long been convulsed by a simmering conflict between the indigenous Mapuche and the Chilean government.
On Thursday, log cabins in a rural area outside the regional capital Temuco belonging to the parents of Fuad Chahin, the leader of Chile`s Christian Democrats party, were broken into a torched by a masked gang, Chahin said on social media.
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by David Gregorio)