On October 19, 2019, at around 8 pm, demonstrators broke into the headquarters of Chilean newspaper El Mercurio de Valparaíso and started a fire that damaged the newspaper’s offices and the offices of La Estrella de Valparaíso, a daily owned by the El Mercurio conglomerate, according to news reports and a report by El Mercurio de Valparaíso.
Firefighters were able to control the flames and evacuate personnel from both newspapers without injuries, according to those reports.
Both papers continued publishing in print and online following the fire, as the organization’s printing press is located in Santiago, the capital, while its headquarters is in Valparaíso, on Chile’s coast, according to Estefanía Díaz Rivero, a staffer on El Mercurio de Valparaíso’s advertising team, who spoke to CPJ over the phone. She said that the newspaper’s journalists based in Valparaíso have worked remotely since the fire.
Protests began in Santiago on October 6, following a presidential decree to raise subway fares in the capital, according to news reports. President Sebastián Piñera reversed the measure on October 19, but protests continued; by October 21, 15 people had been killed amid the demonstrations, which spread beyond the capital and have seen protesters loot and set fire to subway stations, banks, stores, and other buildings, according to reports.
Díaz Rivero said she believed the newspaper’s office was specifically targeted for its editorial stance. She said the demonstrators “yelled slogans accusing El Mercurio of lying and of supporting the government,” and sent CPJ photos of graffiti outside the building that read “Stop Lying.”
The Chilean Investigative Police did not answer a phone call from CPJ seeking comment.
El Mercurio de Valparaíso, founded in 1827, is the oldest newspaper in Chile and one of the oldest in the hemisphere, according to reports.