SANTIAGO – Amnesty International announced this week it will start a campaign to demand justice for Gustavo Gatica, the Chilean student who was blinded during the social protests last year. The government has, despite promises, not yet arrested the police officer responsible. One day after Amnesty’s announcement, an officer investigated in the case was suspended.
It remains one of the biggest scandals of the Piñera administration. During the social protests in Chile, over 400 protesters were blinded in one eye after being hit by rubber bullets. According to the victims, these bullets came from riot police who aimed deliberately at their faces. After international outcry, the government started an investigation, but no police officer has yet been charged.
One of the cases that received most coverage is the Gustavo Gatica case. The psychology student was present at the protests when he received pellets in both eyes, leaving him permanently blind. Months later, no formal action has been taken in response. Amnesty International has therefore announced a campaign for Gatica.
In a statement released by Amnesty, the organization writes that it demands that “the current investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office guarantees justice for Gustavo and sets a precedent by investigating and prosecuting not only the people responsible for his injuries, but also, in accordance with the law, the high command whose tolerance or omission allowed this attack.”
An earlier investigation conducted by the police force concluded that “the personnel who used the anti-riot shotgun fully complied with the protocol for the maintenance of public order … there is no certainty that the ammunition used by the Carabineros caused the eye injuries to citizen Gustavo Gatica Villarroel,” and stated that the injuries that led to Gatica’s total loss of eyesight could have been caused by another protester.
This investigation generated outcry in Chile, and Amnesty also seems to refer to the report in their statements. “The two metal and rubber bullets that were extracted from Gustavo’s eyes match the ammunition used by this police force. This ammunition was used indiscriminately and excessively on countless occasions during the protests, violating international standards on the use of force by authorities.”
Police Officer Involved in Gustavo Gatica Case Suspended
Gatica’s lawyer, Carlos Gajardo, already stated after the Chilean police concluded their investigation that “there is no doubt that these (wounds) were caused by shotgun pellets, which are the weapons that at that time were only used by the Carabineros in Plaza Italia when these events occurred.”
Coincidentally or not, one day after Amnesty’s announcement, the Chilean police said they had suspended a police officer “for not complying with the protocol” when Gatica was shot during the protests. The police do not specifically cite misconduct by the police officer as the reason, but claim the officer downloaded images made with his bodycam before handing them over as evidence to the Chilean investigative police, thus possibly obstructing a police investigation.
A spokesman said the records were handed over to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, who will proceed with an investigation. The National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) in Chile commented on the suspension, and called it “a good signal”.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.