“We had to jump in the river so the shots didn’t reach us… they were shooting to kill”

Protests have submerged the Chilean capital of Santiago in the most deadly outbreak of violence since the dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet. 

In recent weeks many have accused the Chilean police and military of using excessive force on those taking part in the protests. One graduate in Santiago, who wishes to remain anonymous for their own safety, told Concrete: “Almost they killed us… we had to jump in the Mapocho river so that the shots didn’t reach us… they were shooting to kill”. 

Police commanders have reported the injury of hundreds of officers and claimed many have suffered burns from Molotov cocktails thrown by protesters. 

However, another student told Concrete: “Me and my friends, we go out to the streets for the protests in a pacific way and the soldiers and the police, they shoot us, throw on us [tear gas]. There are many examples in many cases that the people go out on the street in a pacific way and for no reason the policemen and the military soldiers shoot us, and people die for that.” They added they felt the media was not showing this in its coverage of the protests.

Santiago has been locked in civil unrest since a 3% rise in the price of metro tickets was announced. The protests have since spread throughout Chile. Initially the protests stemmed from disgruntled students, but now many of the general public have come to the streets. Yet for many, these clashes represent deeper issues as protesters rise up against years of socio-economic inequality. Many are demanding changes within the economic and political structure of the country itself. Another student in Santiago told Concrete: “For many years in Chile [there have] been protests for our basic human rights like education, health, salary, and [against] the corruption in the state. I think that society is tired for not [having] any real answer for our demands.”

The Chilean centre-right president, Sebastian Piñera, has declared Chile is at war, “with a violent enemy” and, despite his public apology on national television, is still facing calls for his resignation and the creation of a brand new constitution. 

Piñera has declared a state of emergency, using night-time curfews and sending tanks and troops onto the streets in an attempt to contain the violence on the streets. He has since scrapped the metro charge increases and postponed a 9.2% increase in electricity tariffs. Yet this has failed to appease protesters and protests have continued. 

Last week, forces from the United Nations arrived in the country to investigate claims of potential human rights abuses. UN human rights chief and former Chilean president Michele Bachelet has described these allegations as, “disturbing”. 

Social media posts from within Chile have depicted security forces beating protesters, while human rights groups have demonstrated outside the Supreme Court demanding stricter limits of the military and police’s tactics to control protesters. More than 1,000 Chileans have been injured and more than 100 have been partially blinded. 150 Chilean law professors have also condemned serious human rights abuses throughout Chile in an open letter that stated: “we demand the rights of protesters be respected” and called for: “an active and responsible dialogue, in good faith, to create pathways to solutions”. Chile’s human rights commission, the INDH, have confirmed they are putting together 55 legal cases, relating to five homicides and eight cases of sexual abuse involving both police and military agents.  

The Organisation of American States’ human rights arm has declared it will convene on November 11 to investigate the alleged abuses, and has requested the public and Chilean government provide evidence.  

Piñera now faces opposition lawmakers attempting to charge him for violation of the constitution and permitting human rights violations during street protests. However, he claims to deplore the loss of life and welcomes UN human rights investigators, stating: “we have nothing to hide”.

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William Warnes and Chris Matthews

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December 2021
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