Mapuches and Students Bear Brunt of Violence by Carabineros

Rights groups say Carabineros are too heavy-handed. (Photo by Benjamin Witte, Santiago Times)

Eighteen years after the end of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, cases of police abuse—far from being an issue of the past—appear to be on the rise in Chile.

Between 1990 and 2004, citizens registered more than 6,000 complaints of violence committed by Carabineros police in central Chile, according to a joint report released last week by Amnesty International (A.I.), the Asociación Americana de Juristas (A.A.J.), the pro-indigenous organization Observatorio Ciudadano and a half dozen other Chilean-based human rights groups.

A year-by-year analysis of that same time period suggests a clear upward trend in the numbers of police abuse cases. In 1990, the year democracy returned to Chile, there were 164 allegations of police abuse. Ten years later, the military courts dealt with nearly three times that number: 476. And in 2004, there were close to 600 reported incidents of police abuse.

"The violence being applied, especially by the Carabineros, is totally out of control. Even during a period of full democracy, they continue to demonstrate an authoritarianism inherited from the dictatorship," the Asociación Americana de Juristas Chile representative Graciela Alvárez told reporters on Sept. 9.

Police are especially heavy handed with traditionally vulnerable sectors of the population such as the Mapuche, Chile's largest indigenous group, claim Alvárez and her colleagues. In Region IX, home to many of the country's Mapuche, police repression has been constant and brutal, said the report. Indigenous leaders are routinely jailed—and sometimes prosecuted under a Pinochet-era antiterrorism law. The report also claimed that Carabineros regularly raid Mapuche homes, often without warrants. Some Mapuche activists have even been killed, as was the case of 22-year-old Matías Valentín Catrileo Quezada. Valentín, a university student, was shot in the back by a police officer in January. Carabineros killed another young Mapuche, 17-year-old Alex Lemún, in 2005.

"We visited the indigenous communities in Region IX, where we were able to observe—especially among women and children—a degree of violence and a degree of fear and panic that results from the state of siege under which [the police] have placed emblematic communities such as Temucuicui," said Alvárez.

Students are also subject to routine police abuse, particularly during protests, the report said. Part of the problem, according to Observatorio Ciudadano director Jose Aylwin, comes from the country's laws themselves. In 1983, the Pinochet government decreed a law requiring anyone planning a protest to first gain permission from local authorities. Although it contradicts the Constitution, which guarantees the right to peaceful demonstration, the law—Supreme Decree 1086—still stands.

"Often, as generally happens with events planned for Sept. 11, for example, authorities refuse to grant permission," said Aylwin. "What happens is that citizens choose to exercise their Constitutional right despite the prohibition, and their generally peaceful demonstrations end up being brutally repressed by the police."

A parallel problem is that the legal structures in place to investigate cases of police abuse—whether internally or externally—are completely insufficient, said Aylwin. Instead, the laws "facilitate impunity," he explained.

Last week's release of the police abuse report coincided with the launch of a national campaign dubbed "Alto Ahi: Basta de Violencia Policial" ("Stop There: No More Police Violence"). Amnesty International, the Asociación Americana de Juristas, and the other groups behind the campaign recommend that the Chilean government change its laws by eliminating, for example, Supreme Decree 1086. The campaign also urges that police be required to take human rights courses.

"Right now there's a lack of willingness on the part of the government to investigate, to face up to, to prosecute, and to penalize crimes committed by security forces: the Carabineros and Investigaciones Police. The numbers of complaints that have come out in recent years are innumerable," said Aylwin.

From The Santiago Times.

(To read the full police violence report in Spanish visit: