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State Agents are Violating Human Rights in Chile

Army tank on patrol in Chile

Growing up in Chile in the 1990’s, we all heard our parents tell stories about the horrible things that had happened before we were born, during the seventeen years in which Pinochet’s dictatorship ruled our country. We knew that these stories, as horrendous and unbelievable as they were, were real, because even though we were not the ones that were directly affected by them, we could still see their effect on everyday people’s faces, on the grown ups that were raising us, on the early commuters in the subway stations and buses, on the thousands of strangers united by a common wound. We irrefutable knew something terrible had happened to them because we could perceive their pain, as it continued to live in them. And their faces were our reminder, our daily reminder of what our own government had allowed to happen.

In one way or another, these stories have been present throughout our lives, thus, they have become an important part of our memory and identities. Until October 19, 2019, these stories were bound to our imagination, to the pictures our minds created of them. Two weeks ago, however, everything changed, as the horrible events narrated by our parents and relatives were happening again, transforming what we had only been able to imagine into a perceived reality.

After Pinochet’s dictatorship ended and democracy was reestablished in 1990, Chileans have been waiting for a structural change in our government, which would address the social injustice on which the country itself had been founded. Even though the country is perceived as one of the most stable democracies and prosperous economic nations in Latin America, chileans have had to endure systematic abuse backed up by a constitution created during the military dictatorship, which allowed the establishment of one of the most unequal societies in the world. In Chile, education, health and even natural resources have been privatized, and wealth distribution is extremely uneven.

After the fourth hike of the subway fare in two years, millions of Chileans who had been struggling and suffering from social injustice throughout decades decided they just couldn’t take it anymore, and as a result, a strong social movement arose, which demanded not only a better and more affordable public transportation system, but also quality education and health system for all, fair wages and pensions, the statization of national resources and, most importantly, a new constitution written by and for the people. A number of protests, with both peaceful and violent demonstrations, took place all over the country, and in a futile effort to ease the protesters, the President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, decided to declare a state of emergency, deploying troops to enforce a curfew—imposed for the first time since the military regime—and restore order.

As it happened during the authoritarian military regime over 30 years ago, state agents have, in some cases, done much more than their public commitment to restore order and ensure people’s safety. During the past weeks hundreds of videos on social media have exposed state agents acting excessively violent against protesters, as well as engaging in illegal actions that are not backed up by the state of emergency. Some examples of this are detaining people inside their homes and disobeying the protocol established for a state of emergency, especially when it comes to the use of deterrent weapons like teargas and pellet guns. Along with the numerous recordings of police abuse and brutality, we are also bearing witness to the testimonies of the victims, some of them also shared on social media.

In this video, a young man accuses Carabineros, the chilean police force, of beating, torturing and raping him for two hours. After the attack he says carabineros officials threw him from a moving vehicle in downtown Santiago. He then contact the INDH to make an official complaint about the assault.

Over twenty people have already died (according to the official report from the government), and in at least five of these deaths state agents have been involved. The Chilean National Institute of Human Rights (Instituto Nacional de Derecho Humanos, INDH) has so far reported 4,316 people being detained, 475 of which are children and teenagers. There have been 132 official complaints for torture and 18 for sexual violence (with cases including rape, abuse, harrassment, and intimidation). Over twenty people have already died (according to the official report from the government), and in at least five of these deaths state agents have been involved. The Chilean National Institute of Human Rights (Instituto Nacional de Derecho Humanos, INDH) has so far reported 4,316 people being detained, 475 of which are children and teenagers. There have been 132 official complaints for torture and 18 for sexual violence (with cases including rape, abuse, harassment, and intimidation).

The state of emergency was revoked last Monday, October 28th, but protests continue as well as the abuse by state officials. An Amnesty International team is already in the country with the purpose of researching the cases of Human Rights violations. After gaining access to the INDH report, Pilar Sanmartín, a researcher who forms part of that team, stated on her Twitter that the situation was terrifying.

The INDH is actively monitoring the protests and last Monday, one of their officials, Jorge Ortiz, was shot seven times by a pellet gun used by Carabineros de Chile, our police force.

By deploying troops in the streets of a country that was profoundly damaged by authoritarian military regime that took the life of 3000 people, President Piñera triggered trauma on thousands of chileans, for whom the plain sight of state violence already felt like torture. But we know and have proof that the torture went further when history repeated itself and the stories from the past that we had nightmares with, became tragically, a reality again. In Chile state agents are torturing, abusing and raping… again. And Chileans are demanding justice.

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Sofía Suazo

Sofía Suazo is a Chilean multimedia artist and creative technologist. Her work involves experimentation with photography, design, and different branches of new media technology such as physical computing, generative and interactive art, machine learning and virtual and augmented reality.

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