On Friday 20 December 2019, Oscar Pérez Cortez left his home at 15:00 hrs on his way to the centre of Santiago, he was going to demonstrate against animal cruelty, one of the many slogans on which the Chilean Social Outbreak was based. Around 19:00 hrs, the 20 year old young man who was in the sector of Plaza Italia, was crushed by two Tango Romeos (Skunk) vehicles that expelled tear gas used by Carabineros. In serious condition he was rescued by health volunteers who took him on a stretcher to Centro Arte Alameda, where a centre for the seriously injured had been set up.
By Denisse Leigthon
“As the hours went by, more people began to arrive, the pavements overflowed. The street filled up. We all took over the square, and at one point the pacos (police) who were more withdrawn towards Parque Bustamante made a very brutal counterattack, I could see them passing and passing tear gas at face level. I could no longer see much because of the smoke. The fumes were very toxic, we couldn’t breathe. I ran towards Vicuña Mackenna, I saw that there was a motorbike lying on the ground, I crossed the street and threw a stone at it, when I looked up, I saw that a skunk was coming across. If I kept going, I was going to hit it sideways. So as not to crash I put my hands out and tried to brake. At that moment I felt the other skunk hit me from behind, and I was in the middle of both of them. At that moment I didn’t feel any pain, but I heard the sound of my bones breaking, my hip, pelvis and knee. From the navel down I couldn’t move. I was conscious because I didn’t hit my head. I remember I touched my thighs and I didn’t feel anything, but when people came to help, they started to lift me from below my knees and armpits, that movement made all the weight of my body go down, the broken bones separated and there came a pain that didn’t stop until the next day. That was terrible, I was desperate,” says Oscar about what happened.
Mauricio Carrillo Castillo was the Carabineros officer who drove the vehicle that hit Oscar in the back. The policeman already had a criminal record for the same offence. In 2008, the Court of Appeals of Concepción sentenced him to 540 days in prison after he was found guilty of one count of manslaughter and two counts of serious injury following a trial that investigated his guilt in a hit-and-run where he did not warn his superiors or help the young man who was hit.
“I was hospitalised until mid-January, I was first taken to the Posta Central after the care I received at the Centro Arte Alameda, and then by emergency law I was taken to the Clínica Las Condes, where I was operated on twice. Recently I had my ninth operation”, says Oscar, as well as detailing that each intervention has had very high economic costs, no less than 4 million pesos plus medical fees, stay and medicines.
-Why did you go out to demonstrate during the Chilean Social Strike?
At that time, I felt that I was a very important hinge in the history of Chile, I felt that I was a social actor like everyone else. It didn’t matter, we fought because it was a very important historical moment, we thought we were going to change everything. Now I feel very disappointed with the way things have turned out, especially after the rejection of the new constitution.
-How do you pay for operations?
We have done raffles, benefit events in the multi-court in my neighbourhood and we were able to pay for some operations, but there are still debts. Mainly the Clinica Las Condes, that was the only place where they could do this operation on my hips, they put 4 screws from side to side. Whoever operated on me is the only doctor in Chile who could do this operation, he went to Israel to specialise. This year I started cycling but because of a scar I had between my groin and abdomen I got a hernia and that was the most recent operation. I can’t exercise yet. I have two fractures in my left knee, the biggest damage was in my hip, I had to have several operations on my urinary system.
At the time of the hit-and-run, did you think you were going to die?
No, I thought I was going to be disabled forever. That crossed my mind.
Were you conscious after the hit-and-run? Do you remember what the rescue was like?
When I was hit it was all between the hip and the knee, so I was conscious. I remember everything.
When I spilled out, after the hit-and-run, I was picked up by other people who were demonstrating and they took me to the pavement in front of the pizzeria. I remember that they left me on the ground. I was in a lot of pain and I told them to drag me, not to pick me up. In the meantime, I heard a tremendous chaos start. The paramedics arrived and put me on the stretcher and took me to the Alameda Art Centre. That road was very difficult, the police were throwing the jet of the water cannon directly at me, the people were making a human shield around me. They also threw tear gas next to us, they tried to hinder the rescue. The same thing was seen systematically with many rescues of other people during the period of fighting. The smoke from the tear gas was rising from the stretcher, someone was putting a mask on my face, and another person was slapping me and telling me not to go to sleep. There for the first time I thought I could die. I felt that everything was too important, I was only thinking about my family and resisting. I didn’t want to die. I felt I still had a lot to live for. I was clinging to life, but the physical pain was too terrible. They took me into the cinema and I had a blurred memory. They gave me intravenous fluids with a sedative but it didn’t do anything. One of the nurses asked me if I could speak to someone in my family. No one was answering the phone because just that day my mum and sister went to the cinema, how paradigmatic. So, I told her to send an audio message to the family WhatsApp group, and an aunt who was nearby answered and came to see me. In the ambulance there were other people who were very serious, with eye trauma, I remember a young man who was clutching his eye so that it wouldn’t spill out.
-Have you thought about what would have happened to you if Centro Arte Alameda hadn’t been open to care for the wounded?
It would have been very difficult to get me to the hospital, the whole journey from the square to the cinema was very complicated and the police made it even more difficult. I was in a very serious condition, time was of the essence. At the Centro Arte Alameda they saved my life. When I arrived, they immediately attended to me and calmed my pain, I felt safe. There was no other place like that so close. When I got to the clinic they did a scan and took me to the ward, if I had spent more time I would have bled to death inside, my bladder could have burst, for example. I think the cops would have been able to take me to prison in that state and I would have died in a dungeon.
I think it was very important that they took the decision to provide a space for the wounded, in the street it was very dangerous, you were exposed to tear gas and pellets, so having a safe place for those who were more seriously injured made me feel much safer. They helped a lot of people, it was an atmosphere of war. What happened to me could have happened to others. They tried to kill me, but I managed to recover.
-How did you find out about the fire at the Centro Arte Alameda?
I was in hospital and I found out about it through social networks, I saw the video of the police firing tear gas at the roof and then the fire. I talked about it with my mum and told her that I had been looked after there. It’s a good thing it wasn’t before mine happened because they wouldn’t have been able to take care of me.
-Did this story you lived through affect you emotionally?
It hit me very hard. The first part of the recovery was pandemic, at one point you couldn’t go out in the street. I was prostrate, I couldn’t move, my friends couldn’t visit me. I was very lonely. In the long run that affected me a lot. In 2022, my first year at the university, it was very difficult for me to relate to others.
I went to some psychological therapies, through some NGOs or private psychologists who offered to help me for free. But I didn’t have the desire and I was inconsistent. Sometimes in the same sessions I didn’t open up much. It hurts to open up and say the things we have inside. Sometimes one prefers to build a shell around that and avoid it.
-Were you like that before or was it because of what happened to you?
I used to ride my bike every day, I did a lot of sport, I climbed the hills, I was very healthy. Now after this, they put a tube in my bladder, I walked with a bag, that limited me a lot. I felt like a grandfather. In 2022, I had a bad diagnosis, I was prescribed Clotiazepam, because of the pain I had to take strong medicines, but this medicine plus the zopiclone made me fly all day long. I started to drink more alcohol as well. I left that psychiatrist and started to need more pills, I had a fierce depression, and I took refuge in those chemicals. Until my sister and my mum noticed something was wrong, and they talked to me to check up on the stuff I was becoming dependent on. I finally recovered from that, thanks to the support of my family. Now I’ve changed therapists and psychologists who have given me medication that doesn’t make you dependent. I also take medication for chronic pain, because my bones hurt and that makes me feel bad and goes hand in hand with the psychological.
-How has all this affected your family? I see that your mum is always supporting you.
My mum has always been with me. It hit my family hard, my mum, my aunt and my sister suffered from depression. From the first moment they supported me, they never judged me. But my mum was very traumatised, she gets scared if I don’t answer the phone, she always thinks something is going to happen to me. I understand her, sometimes we have arguments because I want her to let me go a bit. Emotionally, I haven’t been well, I couldn’t assimilate what had happened to me. And also, the social context we are living in has left me with a bitter taste. There are people who were not spared like me. Each case hurts me.
Now I feel disappointment more than anything else, I’m sad. It’s hard for me to think about this. I am physically better and that helps me. I would like to make a little trip alone to find myself again, because it’s hard for me to be alone.
-Has anything changed in you after all this? What would you like to do?
Several things have changed in me, in my personality. On the negative side, I am more insecure and shy. But my family and friends give me strength. Sometimes, I think I would just like to be quiet, and for the lawsuit to go away so I can focus on my physical and mental recovery. What fulfills me most are animals, and that was my motto for participating in the Starburst. I would like to live with rescued animals, I would like to go and live in a more rural area, help and care for animals. That would make me happy.
In August 2021, the policeman who ran over Oscar from behind (Mauricio Carrillo Castillo) is alone under house arrest. The justice system decreed his deprivation of liberty, which he is serving in the 11th Police Station of Lo Espejo, and 90 days were given for the investigation. Today, three years after what happened, there is still no conviction against the Carabinero. Pérez’s family is considering the option of filing a lawsuit against the State of Chile.
Video commemoration one year after the incident: