2019 Cochrane Colloquium cancelled due to protests in Chile. An unprecedented event: our experience, gratitude and support

An unprecedented situation of civil unrest in Chile last week led to the first ever cancellation of the Cochrane Colloquium scheduled to take place October 22–26 in Santiago. Governing Board members made the official call to cancel at 11 a.m. local time on October 20, when it became clear they could not predict how the violent protests would develop. They were not willing to put conference delegates in danger. Many delegates already had arrived in Santiago, including four Cochrane Rehabilitation representatives, Stefano Negrini, Carlotte Kiekens, Chiara Arienti, Tracey Howe and Thorsten Meyer. Other participants were enroute from all over the world. Many others, like Antti Malmivaara of Cochrane Rehabilitation, got word of the cancellation before their flights departed. 
Our delegates were eyewitnesses to events unfolding in the streets of Santiago. Local tensions were palpable, and we clearly understood the choice the Governing Board faced. As protests grew hour by hour, in Santiago and throughout Chile, Cochrane Board members connected with all of the Cochrane members who had arrived for pre-colloquium governing meetings and offered reassurances and the latest information. A representative of the Chilean Health Ministry, whom Stefano Negrini met at the hotel, unofficially offered the ministry’s understanding and approval of the decision to cancel. 
Even though officially cancelled, the Colloquium took place in a different way. In fact, while all of the scientific sessions were called off, a couple of pre-event workshops were conducted, and many meetings were rescheduled and took place, even with reduced participation. A special virtual 2019 Cochrane Colloquium will happen the week of 2-6 December 2019. We will keep our community informed of developments. 
The attending Cochrane Rehabilitation group had some productive, in-depth discussions with regard to the new organigram, which will be implemented as of January 2020, and to the many ongoing projects. 
Something else very positive happened: there was time for plenty of informal contacts among all those present, with the potential to advance many of Cochrane’s activities. “We will make the best of it,” Cochrane CEO Mark Wilson said, and that is what happened in Santiago. Every evening until we left the country on October 22, a buffet was offered on the conference-hotel rooftop for all of the delegates present. (Unfortunately, some delegates staying at other hotels had to leave very early due to a curfew imposed in the city during the unrest.) During these casual dinners, annual award recipients were announced, and Dr. Gabriel Rada, Co-Director of Cochrane Chile and Chair of the Local Organizing Committee, offered an emotional message of thanks. He thanked everyone for their support, closeness, and love in these very difficult days. He also thanked his staff who invested much energy and time toward preparing for the Colloquium and now are suffering for situations with their families and with their country. Dr. Rada noted the paradox, in his view, that the theme of Colloquium was “Embracing diversity” and  diversity is one of the problems underling the crisis in Chile (Click here to listen to Dr. Rada’s recorded message of thanks).
We want to close this summary by deeply thanking the local organizers of Cochrane Chile for all of their preparation efforts, despite the unpredictable and sad situation that forced the cancellation. The entire Cochrane community recognizes Cochrane Chile’s efforts and applauds their grace in the face of an extremely difficult situation. We also extend our gratitude to Cochrane Central staff: they not only worked to prepare the Colloquium, but they also did all they could with great efficiency to support all of the delegates in their travels home, and to make their stay in Santiago more comfortable under exceptional circumstances. We even heard rumours that a Cochrane staff member who is very involved in the organization got married this year but moved her honeymoon to after the Colloquium. True or not, we think this says a lot about Cochrane and its people! Thank you to Cochrane Chile and Cochrane staff, and we offer our support to Chile for its future and to the Governing Board for its very difficult, but unavoidable decision.