SANTIAGO – The death by electrocution of a protester fleeing from police spurred demands Saturday from Chilean human rights activists and politicians for a thorough investigation.
The victim, identified only as a man of around 40, was pronounced dead on arrival at a Santiago hospital after falling into a ditch with electrical cables while trying to get out of range of police water cannon, media outlets said.
Chile’s independent National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) urged that the circumstances of the 25th protest-related fatality since the start of a massive mobilization against the right-wing government in October be “clarified as quickly as possible.”
The death occurred Friday night as hundreds of people gathered in the capital’s Plaza Italia, dubbed “Dignity Square” by supporters of the movement, for another demonstration.
They were confronted by dozens of members of the Carabineros, Chile’s militarized national police, who deployed tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd, leading to clashes that went on for hours.
Partisans of the anti-government movement, along with other Chileans, have been critical of the permanent heavy police presence in Plaza Italia, accusing authorities of undermining the right to protest.
“Another person dead,” Communist congresswoman Camila Vallejo said Saturday on Twitter. “Carabineros say they followed orders from the (regional) governor. The governor says the Carabineros acted on their own.”
She described Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel, who oversees the police, as “conspicuous by his absence,” and dismissed comments from President Sebastian Piñera as “megalomaniacal.”
“This cannot continue for two years,” Vallejo said, referring to the time left in Piñera’s term.
The spark for Chile’s largest protests since the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet was an increase in transit fares in Santiago, but the grievances quickly expanded to include low pay and pensions, student debt and poor health care, among other issues.
The movement, which brought 1.2 million people – more than 5 percent of Chile’s population – into the center of Santiago on Oct. 25, demands a new constitution to replace the one Pinochet imposed in 1980 and a radical overhaul of the economy.
Besides the 25 people killed, hundreds more have been wounded over the last 2½ months. Some have suffered the loss of an eye from the impact of tear gas canisters or rubber bullets.
The INDH has filed 943 criminal complaints against members of the security forces for torturing or otherwise brutalizing protesters, including 134 accusations of sexual assault.
On Friday, Piñera set a date of April 26, 2020, for a referendum on whether Chile should draft a new constitution.