Demonstrators and police have clashed for months.
Credit: Hector Retamal

Protests in the Chilean capital of Santiago got uglier today. 

Labor leaders had called for a 48-hour national strike, hoping to shut down the government to support students’ call for improved education, and to stress their own demands for better conditions for health-care workers.

Demonstrators in the capital started bonfires in the streets to block major thruways and threw stones at passing buses, the AFP said.

But the government downplayed the situation, telling the Buenos Aires Herald that apart from a few traffic snarls, everything was “normal.”

It’s not a good moment for President Sebastian Pinera. The billionaire businessman, who was elected last year, is the first right-wing politician in Chile since Pinochet. 

More from GlobalPost: Chile confronts Pinochet legacy

He’s tried hard to distance himself from the unpopular dictator, which is a really good idea. Pinochet, if you’ll recall, oversaw the deaths of at least 40,018 people. And that’s only the crimes that have been officially documented.

Of course, nobody’s calling Pinera a mass-murderer. But the protests over the past two months, many of which have devolved into clashes between police and masked youths, have evoked for some the demonstrations against Pinochet’s government in the 1980s. 

Pinera’s popularity this month slumped to 26%, which is nearly where Pinochet's ended up before he left office. 

It probably doesn’t help Pinera that the educational system the government is defending was set up by the general in the first place. In the streets, some students have been chanting the refrain protesters used to oppose Pinochet years earlier. 

Now, it looks like a government minister has descended to bullying tactics used by the former dictator.

One of the leaders of the student protests, Camila Vallejo, has received death-threats via Twitter, the Associated Press reported:

…including a message from a high-ranking culture ministry official who invoked the infamous phrase Gen. Augusto Pinochet used while toppling President Salvador Allende in 1973. Pinochet was recorded telling his troops: “If you kill the bitch, you do away with the litter.”

Vallejo’s been granted police protection, by order of the Supreme Court, and the government official was sanctioned by the court. 

You’d think Pinera would be eager to put some more space between himself from Chile’s dark past, but such a threat from his regime only links him closer to it.

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