On November 8, 2019, unidentified individuals set fire to the headquarters of Pedro de Valdivia University in Santiago, Chile.
The incident occurred in the context of nationwide protests that began on October 18, 2019, when students and activists protested a rise in rush hour transit fares by jumping over turnstiles. The protests quickly spread across the country, expanding to raise concerns over broader socio-economic inequality, including high costs for education and low wages. Reports indicate that the protests have been marked with violence and vandalism. In response to the beginning of the protests, on October 18, President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency and deployed the military, who reportedly beat and fired at protesters. Since the protests began, the violence has reportedly resulted in 23 fatalities, roughly 2,000 injuries, and over 1,500 arrests of protesters and civilians.
On November 8, protesters gathered in Plaza Italia, an epicenter in the country’s capital. During the protests, unidentified individuals reportedly looted and set the nearby Pedro de Valdivia University’s administration building on fire. The building held the offices of the rector, dean, and several faculty. Police arrested three individuals for looting the building and allegedly causing the fire. No injuries were reported as a result of the fire.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about theft and arson targeting of university property. Theft and arson harm the ability of higher education communities to safely and adequately conduct research, teaching, and other academic activities. State authorities have a responsibility to protect higher education communities, investigate threats, and to hold perpetrators responsible; they also have an obligation to exercise restraint and to ensure that their actions de-escalate rather than incite violence. Such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.