Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has said he is cancelling two major international summits so he can focus on his response to nationwide protests that have left 20 dead, hundreds injured and damaged businesses and infrastructure.
The decision to call off the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) and UN global climate gatherings, planned for November and December, respectively, dealt a major blow to Chile’s image as a regional oasis of stability and economic development.
Mr Pinera said he was forced to cancel both events due to the chaos unleashed by 13 days of protests.
This has been a very difficult decision that causes us great painChilean President Sebastian Pinera
Demonstrators are demanding greater economic equality and better public services in a country long seen as an economic success story.
“This has been a very difficult decision that causes us great pain,” Mr Pinera said in a televised address.
“A president always has to put the needs of his countrymen first.”
US and Chinese negotiators were hoping to finalise a modest trade agreement in time for presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping to sign it at the Apec summit in Santiago, set for November 16-17.
Under the tentative deal, the US had agreed to suspend plans to raise tariffs on 250 billion dollars in Chinese imports, and Beijing had agreed to step up purchases of US farm products.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said US officials were “awaiting potential information regarding another location”, but it was unclear if any had been proposed.
Mr Gidley added that Mr Trump wanted to sign the deal with China “within the same time frame”, hinting that a separate event could occur outside a summit.
Mr Pinera also said Chile would not host the global UN global climate gathering planned for December 2-13 “thanks to the difficult circumstances that the country has seen in recent weeks”.
The demonstrations have been accompanied by some vandalism and arson, which forced the shutdown of numerous metro stations.
UN climate change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa issued a statement saying that “alternative hosting options” were being explored.
And a UN official said that all UN venues are being considered as options.
Those would include cities such as New York, Geneva, Bonn, Vienna and Nairobi.
The Santiago conference was meant to work out some of the remaining unresolved rules for countries on climate efforts, smoothing the way for the bigger effort in the 2020 summit: encouraging countries to up their commitments to cutting climate-changing emissions.
Even if cancelling the Santiago climate conference means those rules do not get written this year, “the absence of rules does not stop countries from acting either alone or together” to cut emissions, said Nigel Purvis, a climate and environment negotiator in the Clinton and George W Bush US administrations.
“It really shouldn’t slow down climate action,” he said.