SANTIAGO – Hundreds protested on Friday at the central Plaza Italia in Santiago ahead of the first anniversary of the wave of mass demonstrations in Chile in 2019 and amid serious questions about the national police and its reform.
In the middle of the afternoon and despite the large police contingent, the protesters cut off traffic and managed to occupy the roundabout, which they have dubbed Plaza de la Dignidad (Dignity Plaza) while another group gathered on the nearby bridge from where a 16-year-old boy was allegedly thrown by a police official into a dry riverbed from a height of at least seven meters (23 feet) on Oct. 2.
“What the Carabineros (police force) and the State have done is increase our anger towards the whole system. They cannot hurt their own people, it’s insane,” a young protester, Sandra Caceres, told EFE.
The incident put the spotlight back on the police force, which had already been criticized by international agencies for human rights violations during last year’s wave of protests, which began on Oct. 18 and are considered the worst civil unrest since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) with 30 people dead and thousands injured.
The 16-year-old sustained serious injuries, but his health is improving and the official who allegedly threw him into the riverbed has been detained on suspicion of attempted murder.
“It was as if we all had been thrown into the river,” another young protester, Helga Sepulveda, said to EFE.
The opposition again called for the resignation of Mario Rozas, the head of the Carabineros, who has the support of the government, which convened a special meeting on Friday to discuss a possible structural reform of the police force.
“I come because I want this country to change, I want the injustices, robberies, human rights violations, to stop and that Carabineros be completely restructured,” said another protester who did not want to give his name.
The protests, which were massive in the first few months, had been reducing during summer – which in Chile begins in December – and were suspended with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March, but spontaneous demonstrations returned to this iconic plaza of the capital after the lifting of quarantine a few weeks ago.
“If it weren’t for this movement, there wouldn’t be talk about the reforms that are on the table today. It’s crucial to keep up the demonstrations because this led to the possibility of changing the Constitution,” Sebastian Silva told EFE.
In just over two weeks, more than 14.5 million Chileans are due to take part in a historic referendum on whether or not to replace the current Constitution, which the country inherited from the dictatorship and is seen by much of society as the source of inequalities afflicting the country by giving the State a secondary role in providing basic services.