Things That Matter

Protesters In Chile Have Been Brutally Attacked By Police And Now The President Just Admitted The Police Are Guilty

From Haiti and Puerto Rico to Ecuador and, now, Chile, communities around the world are standing up against policies that they view as contributing to growing income inequality.

After Chile’s President had announced a planned increase in public transit fares, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to announce their opposition to the plan. Chile has already been combating extreme income inequality and a growing cost of living that has outpaced wage growth, making Chile one of the most expensive Latin American countries to live in.

This growing inequality has led to major demonstrations across the country and with them, accusations of police brutality.

Chile’s President Piñera has admitted for the first time that police have abused protesters.

Credit: AFP

Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera condemned for the first time what he called abuses committed by police in dealing with four weeks of violent unrest that have rocked the South American nation.

“There was excessive use of force. Abuses and crimes were committed, and the rights of all were not respected,” the president said in a speech to the nation Sunday as it marked a month of turmoil that has left 22 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.

Accusations of police brutality and human rights violations have been levelled since the protests broke out, prompting the United Nations to send a team to investigate. Amnesty International has also sent a mission.

“There will be no impunity, not for those who committed acts of unusual violence, nor for those who committed excesses and abuses. We will do what is best for the victims,” Pinera said, referring to protesters first and then the security forces.

Public prosecutors in Chile are investigating more than 1,000 cases of alleged abuses.

Credit: Rafael Ibanez / Getty

The accusations range from torture to sexual violence – by the police and military. Police have also been accused of stopping rescuers helping a dying protester.

Chile’s independent human rights watchdog said it would file a formal complaint for murder against police officers who allegedly prevented paramedics from attending a heart attack victim amid a protest last Friday.

Security forces firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons made it impossible for rescuers to properly treat the victim, Chile’s publicly-funded National Institute for Human Rights said.

Twenty-nine year old Abel Acuna died shortly after at a nearby Santiago hospital. The case joins more than 1,000 others currently under investigation by public prosecutors. Accusations of abuses by security forces ranging from torture to sexual violence have multiplied during weeks of anti-government unrest.

Even the country’s highest medical body has expressed concern at the growing injuries.

Credit: Reuters

Last week, Chile’s main medical body said at least 230 people had lost sight after being shot in an eye with lead or rubber projectiles while participating in demonstrations. Of those, at least 50 people will need prosthetic eyes.

“We are facing a real health crisis,” said Dr Patricio Meza, vice-president of the Medical College of Chile.

“In three weeks, we have had the highest number of cases involving serious ocular complications due to shots in the eye.”

At demonstrations, it’s common to see police firing pellet guns at crowds. Often, “they’re firing at 90 degrees, which is to say, directly at the face,” Meza said. He said most of the injured say it’s the national police force – known as the Carabineros – who are the ones firing.

Furious Chileans have been protesting social and economic inequality, and against an entrenched political elite that comes from a small number of the wealthiest families in the country.

Credit: EPA

The massive demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, but it’s common to see hooded protesters infiltrate the gatherings, hurling rocks, raising barricades and confronting police, who clamp down with violence.

The demonstrations started originally over a rise in the fare of the metro in the capital, Santiago, but quickly spread across the country and widened into more general protests against high levels of inequality, the high price of health care and poor funding for education.

Harsh repression by the security forces further stoked the anger of those protesting as did the response by President Piñera, who declared a state of emergency and said the country was “at war”.

The government and protesters have reached at least one agreement – and that is the plan for a new constitution.

Credit: Prensa Latina

On Sunday, Pinera also praised an agreement reached last week under which Chile will draft a new constitution to replace the current one that dates back to the rightwing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990.

Many in Chile see this step – getting rid of a charter that smacks of a dark, repressive chapter in the country’s past – as a way to help end the crisis.

“If the people want it, we will move toward a new constitution, the first under democracy,” Pinera said in a speech from the presidential palace.

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