In Chile, the 29th of March is celebrated as the Day of the Combatant Youth. On this day in 1985, police encountered and killed Rafael and Eduardo Vergara Toledo, two brothers involved in the armed resistance against the dictatorship. Eduardo, 20 years old, was shot to death on the spot, while Rafael, 18, survived the police ambush and was later executed in the police station. The oldest brother in the family, Pablo, who in 1983 had been extensively tortured by Chilean police for political reasons, and the sister, Anita, fled into exile. In 1988, they returned clandestinely to Chile. In November of that year, Pablo and Araceli Romo, both militants of the MIR, were found dead at the site of an explosion by an electrical tour, but all forensic evidence indicates they were killed elsewhere and placed at the scene of an explosion carried out by the military.
The mother, Luisa Vergara Toledo, began organizing protests to seek the truth about the killings of her three sons, to demand that the police responsible be punished, and to celebrate the memory of all the young people who fought against authority. Admirably, she continued protesting when the dictatorship transitioned to democracy in 1990. At least 74 combatant youth have been killed in struggle in the final years of the dictatorship and in the two decades of democracy.
The yearly protest takes place in the proletarian neighborhood of Villa Francia, on the spot where Rafael and Eduardo were killed, although the Day of the Combatant Youth is celebrated much more broadly than with one protest, by human rights, marxist, leftist, and anarchist groups. University students typically clash with police at the corner of the streets Macul and Grecia, and in the nighttime people in many poblaciones–poor suburbs, some of them originally springing from collective land occupations–set up barricades and fight with police. There are also protests and riots in most other cities in Chile.
In 2013, several hundred people–growing eventually to a thousand–gathered at the spot of the murders of Rafael and Eduardo to listen to speeches by Luisa and Manuel–the father, as well as the mother of Matias Catrileo and the mother of another youth killed in protests. The three mothers then presented loaves of bread they had baked, sharing it with all present, asking the taking of the bread to commemorate a lifelong commitment to the struggle, not just one day a year, but every day. At one point, Luisa (who at this point is very old) apologized for a moment of disorganization in the ceremony by saying, “I’m distracted, I want to go throw stones.”
Next, the crowd marched through Villa Francia, accompanied by a troupe of traditional tinku dancers and musicians. They arrived in a park to listen to several bands–punk, hip hop, rock, and ska–as well as more speakers from the Mapuche struggle, leftist organizations, or masked members of armed struggle groups. In a final speech, Luisa again asked the people to take the struggle seriously, to be careful but fight hard, to recognize that it was a question of life and death, and to consider the need of acquiring arms “because they’re not going to fall from the sky.” Afterwards, the crowd masked up and marched off, encountering riot police at the avenue 5 June.
Meanwhile, at Macul and Grecia, by the university, some 50 masked people set up a flaming barricade and pelted police with molotov cocktails, holding their ground for some time before making their getaway.
During the night, neighbors set up burning barricades in the poblaciones of La Victoria, Villa Francia, La Pincoya, Pudahuel, and elsewhere. The police acted aggressively, trying to control the streets–and sometimes succeeding–with tear gas, rubber bullets, armored personnel carriers, guanacos (armored tanks that shoot high pressure streams of water to put out fires or attack protesters) and sorillos (smaller tanks that shoot tear gas). People fought back with rocks, molotov cocktails, slingshots, and in some areas shot guns, air guns, pistols and in a couple cases automatic rifles.
The media this year have tried to minimize the rioting, so it is hard to find out how many arrests were carried out, and how many cops were injured.