The issue of security in Chile, in the light of the tragic events that took place in May

By Cristina Bianchi

In Chile the last two weeks have been characterised by the staging of new and old challenges that have to do with labour rights, security and the management of public affairs, as well as the role of the security forces.

On May Day, workers’ movements and various left-wing parties demonstrated for labour rights, decent treatment at work and inclusion. The celebration of workers’ day in the constituent period sees the CUT (Central Única de Trabajadores) putting the focus on demands for decent and dignified work and seeking support for the approval of the new constitution being drafted.

On the same day, almost simultaneously, another demonstration had begun on the other side of the Alameda, in the Estación Central area, in the Meiggs neighbourhood, where street and informal commerce rules. The same demands take on a power that the forces in play do not like, as they manage informal vending stalls, charging up to 5,000,000 Chilean pesos a month [1]. The demonstration quickly turns into destruction and burning of tents, chaos in the street, numerous barricades and shooting of civilians. Thanks to the many security cameras, it was quickly possible to identify the assassins who were shooting at people’s faces and wounded 3 people with bullets, including 2 journalists [2]. The number of journalists shot in such a short space of time is significant and suggests intentional actions towards those who work to show the dark sides of certain areas of the city.

Francisca Sandoval died in the course of her work, after 11 days in hospital, where she arrived on the evening of May 1st with a bullet that had pierced her face shield, her eye and had entered her skull. Terrifying images of a colleague given to a media outlet (Canal 3 de La Victoria) which since 1997 has been reporting from the ground up what other pro-government and commercial media prefer not to report. The numerous demonstrations of solidarity with the family and the demands for justice for the murderer and other people who were armed at the demonstration and shooting, with criminal records to their name, have led to the measure of preventive detention pending trial.

However, this is not a simple tragic story. We are in the midst of demonstrations that have been unguarded by the Carabineros, the security forces that should be defending citizens’ right to demonstrate and the right to work in safety for journalists performing a public service. But all that has been seen has been a total inability to prevent and manage violent chaos, reminiscent, in some respects, of images from The Joker. On the role of the Carabineros, the current events give food for thought. After this government declared (since the presidential campaign) the unconditional reform of the Carabineros, it is urgent to resolve the issue.

However, it is no easy matter to address the issue of the security forces, since in the second week of May, the Arauco-Malleco Coordinating Committee (CAM), a radical organisation of the Mapuche ethnic group in the troubled Araucanía region (which has been in conflict with the state for more than two centuries), called for armed resistance and burned three trucks without causing any casualties [3]. These are in addition to the burning of another 30 trucks on 28 April, an action claimed by the organisation Resistencia Mapuche Lavkenche (RML)[4] and the burning of another 7 trucks and a house (without fatalities) on 13 May[5]. An offensive that comes against a government that is making every attempt to reactivate a dialogue that has been managed for too long with force and with repeated Constitutional States of Exception with the sending of the military; a measure that the current government decided to take last Monday, afterwards numerous internal and external debates within the government itself.

On the other hand, with an inflation rate of 10.5% [6], the levels of insecurity in Chile are increasing vertiginously and this week crime has come to knock on the doors of representative people such as the Minister of Defence, Maya Fernández [7], who has seen two people enter her house and threaten her partner and son with knives and firearms and then steal valuables and escape in her car. On the same night, a policeman who is the driver of the presidential escort team was the victim of a robbery with kidnapping and was wounded in the shoulder with a firearm after being abandoned at the place of arrest, in a public space, fortunately without tragic consequences [8]. These events certainly raise the question of their significance insofar as the victims have been members of the current government’s institutions: robbery or intimidation?

If the issue of security had been one of the strongholds of the opposition candidate belonging to the fascist ultra-right, President Gabriel Boric and his team find themselves today having to face major issues such as mafias, human trafficking, drug trafficking, common crime and instability in Araucania. How they will deal with this key issue which, once again, has many facets and factual powers within it, will be one of the key factors for the survival of this government in power.