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  • The Legacy of Chile's Pinochet Dictatorship Lives On


    State repression of social movements by militarized Carabinero police force draws international condemnation -   February 12, 2013
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    The Legacy of Chile's Pinochet Dictatorship Lives OnVoiceover: Chile’s police force the Carabineros have gained increasing notoriety in recent years over their violent and militaristic approach to responding to social movements in the South American country. Chile officially transitioned to democracy in 1990 following 17 years of military rule under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. During this period, at least 3,200 people were killed by government security forces and hundreds of thousands more were tortured, disappeared, or forced into exile. Today the country maintains the same 1980 constitution introduced during the dictatorship as well as the same justice system for the country’s largely militarized Carabinero police force, which was first established in 1927. Some critics and human rights defenders say Chile has still not managed after almost 23 years of democracy to fully democratize its institutions. Maria Jose Perez is a coordinator at Londres 38, or 38 London Street, a building in the center of Chile’s capital Santiago that was once the headquarters of the Socialist Party and then later converted into a detention center following the military coup, where state security forces tortured hundreds of political dissidents, many of whom were disappeared. In 2005 the building was reopened and declared a national monument and space of memory.

    Maria Jose Perez, Coordinator, Londres 38: There are certain legacies of the dictatorial regime that still perpetuate themselves, and so although it’s true that we cannot speak of the systematic practice of human rights violations, of the detentions, of the torture and crimes like those that were the norm during the Pinochet regime, there do exist certain legacies and certain practices within the security institutions that allow and in a way validate certain practices that violate human rights…the mobilizations of the past year [2011] were harshly repressed by the police but what’s more is that we saw certain practices that had appeared guarded away suddenly taken out of the boxes, for example we are aware of the case of young people who were detained, young female high school students, for example, and while they were interrogated, they were stripped naked by the police, this is a practice that in one of the institutions appeared valid and was allowed as part of those actions that exist outside of the norm, we think that there is an important issue that it is not derived solely from the legal framework, here there are social and political practices that are legitimated by the authorities.

    Voiceover: According to Chile’s current Minister of the Interior and Public Security Andres Chadwick, an early supporter and collaborator of the Pinochet dictatorship, it’s the Carabinero police who are the victims of abuses by the students, and not the other way around.

    Andres Chadwick, Minister of the Interior and Public Safety, Chile: If there are some who want to talk about possible abuses, what is clear and what we want people to reflect on is that it is a small minority of secondary level students who are abusing, they are abusing the patience of all Chileans, abusing the Carabinero police, abusing the possibility that people have normal days, and abusing their classmates by not allowing them in their overwhelming majority to return to their normal classes.

    (Journalist off camera asking question) Minister, excuse me, but it would appear that you are trying to justify complaints made by women students, who in many cases are minors, over sexual abuses…

    Voiceover: The journalist asking Minister Chadwick the question goes on to elaborate upon a number of reported sexual abuses committed against mostly underage female high school students while they were detained by Carabinero police during street protests. The Minister’s response to her inquiry insists that the government respects the right of people to assemble and that any reported instances of abuses by police are thoroughly rejected by the state, promptly investigated, and dealt with appropriately through the country’s tribunal system.

    Andres Chadwick, Minister of the Interior and Public Safety, Chile: This government has given very clear proof with a very solid trajectory in terms of absolutely respecting the right of people to develop and express themselves through their acts of social mobilizations, it has given very categorical proof that any abuse on behalf of the police is completely and categorically rejected and immediately investigated and that if situations arise from these investigations that merit it, sanctions are applied within the Carabinero police as well as cases are transferred to the tribunals if there are irregular actions found.

    Voiceover: Miguel Fonseca Carrillo of the University of Arts and Social Sciences public policy studies department in Santiago is the coordinator with the Justice Committee for Manuel Gutierrez. The group seeks justice for its namesake, Manuel Gutierrez, a 14-year-old high school student who was shot dead by a Carabinero police officer on August 25th of 2011 during the height of the student protests. While five officers were expelled from the force and a General was forced to resign following Gutiererz’s murder, the officer who pulled the trigger was released on bail and remains free. Fonseca says that the officer responsible for Gutierrez’s death, and many other officers accused of violating protestors’ human rights in Chile over the past couple years, go largely unpunished due to the country’s ongoing use of a military tribunal system established during the Pinochet dictatorship that encourages impunity.

    Miguel Fonseca Carrillo, Coordinator, Justice Committee for Manuel Gutierrez: What occurs in Chile is that they still maintain a military justice system, I’m referring to the military tribunals created during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and these tribunals are those that deal with the cases when the Carabinero police commit a crime in the act of service, what we have analyzed is that this institutionality facilitates police abuse because when a homicide occurs, in the context of a citizens’ social protest where a Carabinero police officer kills a civilian, the military justice system investigates these cases rather than the ordinary civilian justice system, and the military justice system tends to categorize the case not as a homicide but as a procedural error, the tendency is that when a Carabinero policeman kills a civilian in the context of a protest, it is done with impunity, impunity in the sense that the Carabinero police who committed the crime will remain free.

    Voiceover: The Justice Committee for Manuel Gutierrez has backed legislation in the Chilean parliament that seeks to modify the country’s existing Military Justice system. Chile’s militarized Carabinero police force has drawn criticism from domestic and international human rights organizations in the wake of the state’s response to the student mobilizations and a recently intensified conflict with Mapuche indigenous groups in southern Chile. Amnesty International’s 2012 report on human rights in Chile expressed concerns over the Carabinero’s excessive response to the student movements and indigenous groups as well as the inappropriate use of state antiterrorism legislation in the case of indigenous Mapuche activists. Chile’s official government human rights body, the National Institute of Human Rights, or INDH, has also expressed concerns over abuses committed by the state in recent years, stating that the country’s model for protecting human rights was at risk.

    Miguel Fonseca Carrillo, Coordinator of the Justice Committee for Manuel Gutierrez: In general, the reestablishment of democracy in Chile in 1990 is an unresolved issue, to be able to profoundly democratize its institutions and ensure the exercise of human rights is an unresolved issue, I think there have been various initiatives for this to advance, but there is clearly still a lot of work to be done, I think in 2011 and 2012 the situation worsened in Chile with the encroachment on human rights, and this encroachment has to do with a lack of capacity on behalf of the institutions and of the government to be able to receive civic demands in spaces of dialogue and resolution.

    Voiceover: Fresh concerns over the Chilean state’s response to social movements have arisen following a recent escalation in a protracted conflict with indigenous Mapuche communities in a region in southern Chile known as the Araucania. As 2013 is an election year in Chile, many observers are anticipating a surge in citizens’ mobilizations and a violent crackdown by the state’s Carabinero police force.


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