When the news hits home
By Jorge Silva
We came back home today, Monday, after four nights out, and my almost two-year-old daughter doesn’t understand why her toys and her teddy bears are not in her room.
Last Thursday, when I was awakened suddenly by the sound of screaming and people banging on frying pans at 3:30 am, I knew it was going to be a complicated day. Another one, in the -so far- 3 months of protests.
The banging of pans and the screaming were a warning that the National Guard was arriving by surprise to break up a camp of protesters who oppose the government. They were camping one block and a half away from my house. I notified my coworkers.
I didn’t rush down to the street. I realized it wasn’t safe since the National Guard had set up a perimeter one block around the camp. Only when dawn started to break was I able to get to the top of a building with a view to the place where the soldiers were finishing cleaning up and taking away the remains of the camp. The protesters had already been arrested.
We are always ready to go into hostile situations, or we are aware when we are heading into one, but we are not always ready to see the hostility reach our homes.
As the morning advanced dozens of enraged protesters and neighbors started gathering right at the corner of my building in the middle-class neighborhood of Los Palos Grandes. They blocked traffic and started setting their barricades ablaze, which quickly attracted the police. Everything happened so fast, that I wasn’t able to take my car out of the parking lot. I was trapped.
Some weeks before, my family and I had to leave our apartment for a few days due to the violence of the protests. The smell of the tear gas and the effect of the barricades had filled our home. That morning my wife, also a journalist, prepared a bag with some clothes and some personal effects of our 2-year-old daughter.
I went out to the street and walked around the spots where I knew I could find more protesters. After noon everything seemed to be calmer. The upheaval of the early hours of the morning seemed to have ended. Only a few small groups remained.
Just before 3pm, my wife called me again and said she thought they should leave the apartment. The protesters had gathered again right under our window. The street was still blocked on both sides and it wouldn’t be long before they started clashing with the police. I came home, took her with a coworker who drives the motorcycle we use and escorted her and my little daughter past the protesters to a corner two blocks away, where she was able to stop a cab and reach the office safely.
I came back immediately and continued to take pictures of the protest, unfazed by the fact that everything was happening right under my balcony. But I was also thinking of how few protesters there were compared with the large demonstrations of a few weeks ago.
In any case, it wasn’t long before the clash started, the police arrived and started shooting gas and receiving stones and Molotov cocktails in return.
All of a sudden, some colleagues told me that a tear gas canister had hit a window of my building. It took me a while to understand what they were telling me, and what had happened in the middle of the ruckus and the noise.
The canister had broken a window of my own apartment, leaving a cloud inside. I couldn’t tell if it was shot by a police officer or thrown by a protester trying to return it to the police.
I immediately went up to verify that nothing had caught fire. I found the smoky bomb next to the shattered glass of the window in my daughter’s room. The cloud of gas filled that room and expanded to the living room.
In a daze, I saw the toys we play with every night completely surrounded by the gas. I was being affected by the same reality that the residents of the Chacao district have had to face night after night only a few blocks away.
I opened all the windows, turned on the fans and took the canister out to the balcony, and then returned to the street.
A few hours before, one of my coworkers from the newsroom said that he wasn’t planning on updating the news of the camps being dismantled “unless something serious happens”. Back at the protest, the police tried unsuccessfully to surround the group of masked youths and arrest them, but they ran into the buildings.
When I reached the street we heard a round of gunshots that made us lean against the walls. The shots seem to be coming from one of the neighboring buildings. The police ran to the north corner, where they seemed to be coming from.
A policeman died from a wound to the neck and two others were saved by their bulletproof vests. Police confirmed that the shots were fired from the third floor of the building on the north corner.
The prediction of the early morning had come true: it was a mad day right at my doorstep, complete with a tear gas canister shot into my home. Its effect lasted for a few days.