About 4,000 people marched Saturday in the northern Chilean port city of Iquique to protest the presence of undocumented Venezuelans, with some demonstrators scuffling with migrants and a radical fringe setting fire to belongings at an empty immigrant camp.
The marching demonstrators shouted “No more illegal immigration” and sang the local anthem as well as Chile’s national anthem, warning that “Chile is a republic that will be respected.”
Police stepped in to break up a number of minor fights which they said were caused by Chileans who attacked Venezuelan migrants living on the street.
The protesters marched from Iquique’s old town about 10 blocks to the Pacific Ocean where hotels and apartments line the seafront. The migrants have scrambled around the city since early Saturday to try to find less visible spots to camp, AFP journalists said.
The demonstration took place a day after police evacuated a migrant camp that had existed for a year in the town square. Most of the migrants, poor and undocumented, are stranded in the city, surviving on odd jobs with no way to reach the capital.
“The hundred families” who lived on the square “are now wandering in various public spaces… they are trying to settle with their tents on the beaches” or in the city’s industrial zone, said Jose Miguel Carvajal, governor of the Tarapaca region where Iquique is located.
Some more radical demonstrators went to a small camp set up by some Venezuelan migrants — who were not there — and burned their few belongings: tents, mattresses, bags, blankets and toys.
Chile is Latin America’s wealthiest country by per capita standards.
Venezuela, meanwhile, is in an unprecedented economic and political crisis that has led millions of people to leave their country, rich in oil resources but mismanaged and rife with dysfunction.
Venezuela’s national currency, the bolivar, has lost 73 percent of its value to the dollar so far this year. Inflation is about 3,000 percent.