General Manuel Baquedano is—or was—a Chilean national hero, as the military commander who defeated Peru in the war of the Pacific. For almost a century his bronze equestrian statue has towered over a plaza that marks the emotional heart of Santiago, a gathering place for football fans and demonstrators.
Yet when Chile was shaken in late 2019 by an explosion of violent vandalism and peaceful mass protests, the statue became a target, the symbol of an established order held by some to have become intolerable. After it was repeatedly covered with spray paint and set on fire, in the middle of the night on March 12th troops took it away for restoration.
For conservatives its removal represented defeat by the mob for the centre-right government of Sebastián Piñera. Yet the more powerful symbol may be the empty stone plinth the soldiers left behind. Chile is embarking on a potentially constructive process of redefinition, with the election on April 10th and 11th of a convention to write a new constitution. Many hope that this will isolate los violentos, and forge a new social contract that creates a fairer, but still capitalist, country.
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