Shocked Chile searches for answers on bombings
SANTIAGO, Chile – Monday's (September 8) attack on a Chilean subway station shocked residents of Santiago – considered by many the safest capital in Latin America – and sparked a search for the perpetrators that has also reopened old wounds.
No one has claimed the attack, which injured 14 people, or a string of other small homemade bombs detonated across the South American country in recent months.
And police say they have few clues.
The information vacuum has sparked much speculation on who is behind the blasts.
Anarchists? Radicalized students? Ultraconservatives? The range of theories spans the political spectrum in this country still deeply divided by its 1973 military coup and 17-year dictatorship.
Early investigations into Monday's attack, which targeted a food court inside the packed Escuela Militar (Military School) station at lunch hour, focus on anarchist groups with no formal organizational structure, according to district attorney Raul Guzman.
But he acknowledged police had little information and said they had requested international assistance.
"So far, nothing is publicly known about who committed these acts or their motives," said Claudio Fuentes, director of the political science program at Diego Portales University in Santiago.
"There are opposing agendas seeking to use social demands to explain this phenomenon of violence, and that's a mistake."
Much speculation has centered on Thursday's anniversary of the September 11, 1973 coup that ousted socialist president Salvador Allende and installed military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
The date remains divisive 24 years after the return of democracy in Chile, where the late Pinochet still has fervent supporters despite his regime's "dirty war" against leftist opponents, when 3,200 people were killed and 38,000 tortured.
Violent protests, gunfights and clashes with police routinely break out on the anniversary.
"There's not the slightest doubt that the attacks are part of the buildup to the September 11 commemorations," said far-right Senator Ivan Moreira, accusing leftist radicals of the bombings.
At the opposite extreme, the leader of the Party for Democracy (PPD), Jaime Quintana, said investigators should not rule out the possibility the bomb was the work of far-right groups trying to destabilize leftist President Michelle Bachelet's government.
"They must examine the theory that cells of former dictatorship agents may have been reactivated," he told journalists.
Adding to the fray, a local TV station linked the bombing to the country's student movement – an allegation rejected by the president of the Chilean University Students' Federation (FECH), anarchist activist Melissa Sepulveda.
Strategy of silence?
Monday's attack was the most destructive of the 200 makeshift bombs that have targeted banks, gyms, embassies and restaurants in Chile in the past five years.
It has shaken the country more than previous blasts, which caused relatively light damage and injuries.
It also focused attention on a disconcerting uptick in bombings in recent months.
The subway blast was the second on the metro system in less than two months.
It was followed by two more bombings Tuesday and Wednesday (September 9 and 10) at a shopping center in the resort city of Viña del Mar that wounded one person.
Ominous messages have circulated on social media since Monday's attack, including a picture of a subway graffiti warning that said "the next bomb will be on a bus."
Two subway stations were briefly closed Wednesday after bomb threats that proved to be false alarms.
The government has called Monday's blast a "terrorist act" and vowed to prosecute the perpetrators under an anti-terror law that provides heavier sentences.
But Aldo Mascareno, a sociologist at Chile's Adolfo Ibanez University, said the recent bombings bore none of the usual signs of terrorism: no one has claimed them or sought to use them to impose an agenda.
"If the silence persists and the attacks continue, the conclusion must be that these are not untrained groups just starting operations, but rather that the goal is precisely to remain hidden, in order to make the public think the responsibility lies elsewhere," he told Agence France-Presse. – Rappler.com