Backstory - As a Riot Rages, a Smartly-dressed Chilean Sips His Soda

Wearing dark glasses, a suit and tie and sipping on a soda, the smartly-dressed Chilean standing on a Santiago boulevard looks surprisingly nonchalant about the tumult around him, with riot police chasing down masked protesters.

Chile's protests began in October over a hike in metro fares but quickly unraveled into sometimes violent riots, looting, and arson that have left more than 26 dead. Students kicked off early rallies, but more than one million more have since joined in anger over social injustices and inequality.

Veteran Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic - who has decades of experience in war zones - took the photo with a telephoto lens last week, immediately recognizing the moment as a surreal image of calm amid chaos.

The subject of the picture turned out to be 68-year-old retiree Gino Rojas, a protester, who later told Reuters he saw nothing unusual about the situation.

"In every movement there comes a time to relax," Rojas said in an interview at his apartment in Santiago several days after the Dec. 4 riot. "Obviously in a revolution... you get hot, uncomfortable in your suit and your tie snugs up."

Gino Rojas gets dressed at his house in Santiago, Chile, Dec. 9, 2019.
Gino Rojas gets dressed at his house in Santiago, Chile, Dec. 9, 2019.

Rojas, who earlier in his life worked in the credit card department of a Chilean retailer, calls himself an "activist," and said he joined the marches out of solidarity with the protesters seeking change.

He recalls the moment he stopped in the road and lifted his soda bottle to take a sip.

"When I stopped I was surprised to see (the police) closing in on me in both lanes," Rojas said. "They came in buses and stopped 10 meters (11 yards) away. I stopped to watch them."

For Tomasevic, who had already lost one camera to a water cannon amid the skirmishes, the assignment was equal parts tense and rewarding.

"There was a lot of tear gas, a lot of sweating," Tomasevic said. "I noticed this guy as I followed police."

"I had seen people coming to protest in suits and well-dressed, which was unusual compared to other places," he added.


by via Voice of America - English