Santiago, Chile – A young man sits on a camp bed staring disoriented at the ground. Nurses attend to a pellet wound in his calf from where a single line of blood runs down.
A group of young people, their heads shielded by white and blue helmets, rush past carrying another young man on a stretcher. A helicopter flies above in air that is choked with tear gas, as firearms rattle in the distance.
Not far is Santiago’s Plaza Italia, the beating heart of Chile’s demonstrations, and now the centre of an increasingly violent conflict between police and protesters.
The wounded are being tended to in a makeshift medical site surrounded by artisanal stalls, all shut except for one selling keyrings and patterned bags – in the distant hope that a tourist might pass by and they could make a sale.
But tourists are unlikely as violent protests in the capital over growing inequality and the government crackdown on demonstrators continue.
The protests erupted a month ago, initially as a student action against a metro fare hike. They have since mushroomed into widespread demonstrations across the country over the country’s economic model, as well as the government crackdown against the protesters.
At least 23 people have died, including five killed by police and military forces during the now-lifted state of emergency last month. Thousands more have been wounded – more than 220 of whom have been blinded or partially blinded by pellets or other projectiles.
On the front line, protesters are in a deadlock with police who confront them with tear gas and water cannon, and shoot firearms, while protesters fight back by throwing stones or setting up barricades.
And in their middle is a group of volunteers, all medically trained – some professionals, other students – who call themselves “the Brigada”. Similar self-organised groups are working across the country.