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US accuses Russia of inflaming tensions in Chile

Chile protests (Nicolás15/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has accused Russia of inflaming tensions in Chile, where recent protests and unrest have left more than 20 people dead in recent days.

A senior State Department official on October 31 said there were “clear indications” people were taking advantage of the unrest and “skewing it through the use and abuse of social media, trolling.”

“We have seen indications of Russian activity supporting this negative course of the debate,” the official said.

The official added that Moscow has been stepping up its influence in South America, with “very little of it positive.”

“They seem to prefer a region divided and they seem to prefer democratic debate mired in conflict, which is unfortunate,” he said.

Russia has previously said it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

Washington and Moscow have also squared off over unrest in Venezuela, where Russia supports embattled Socialist President Nicolas Maduro. The United States considers Maduro as illegitimate and has backed the opposition in calls for his resignation.

U.S. President Donald Trump in the past has “denounced foreign efforts to undermine Chilean institutions, democracy, or society.”

Chile has been hit by mass street protests against the government of President Sebastian Pinera.

Opponents initially rallied against a rise in public transportation fares, but it has turned into a general protest against low salaries and pensions, the state of public health care, and the widening gap between rich and poor in one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries.

Pinera, a right-wing billionaire, has attempted to ease the protests with steps such as reshuffling his cabinet and vowing labor reforms. But opposition lawmakers have said the measures were not sufficient.

The United States, which has long had close ties with Chile, said foreign interference was not the only cause of the unrest. But a State Department spokesman added that Russia had “sought to exacerbate divisions, foment conflict, and all-around act as spoiler to responsible democratic debate.”

Trump had been expected to sign a trade deal with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at an APEC meeting in Santiago in November, but Chile withdrew as host “to take care of problems at home,” Pinera said.