SANTIAGO – The government is taking no risk in preparing for the month of protests that will start with International Women’s Day on Mar. 8. Last week, the Comptroller General approved a decree that allows the military to use force in cases of “constitutional exception.” Later, it released a document in which the precise situations and rules are outlined.
Since November, the government has been developing a decree to allow the deployment of the army and the use of force “in cases of constitutional exception.” The decree was brought before the Comptroller General in January and was approved last week.
The Ministry of Defense and the Comptroller also drew up nine Rules for the Use of Force (RUF) that the armed forces must adhere to in any case of constitutional exception. It also outlined the methods armed forces must employ to “ensure public order and repair or prevent damage or danger to national security.”
Rules for the Use of Force
Visual and verbal warnings, fumigants such as smoke grenades, pepper spray, and tear gas, are permitted as deterrents. The use of water cannons and “non-lethal armaments” such as canes and electrical devices are also included.
If the circumstances arise – for example, when soldiers face a direct threat – forces should prepare the firearm with clear intention to use it, firing warning shots before being allowed to use the weapon on citizens. Firearms should be used for self-defense only and not at close range, nor should they be aimed directly at the face. The use of firearms against protestors is to be used only be a last resort.
Finally, the rules give permission to use force against any attempt to damage property. The government has come under pressure in recent months to deal with violence at protests and the destruction of public and private property including shops, banks, or metro stations. Preventing such destruction is one aim of the decree to avoid “a negative impact on the population.”
No End in Sight
The approval of Decree No. 8 indicates that authorities expect much violence for the coming months, as summer vacations end. Despite President Sebastián Piñera’s expressed hope that March will be a month of agreements, not violence, the government is preparing for the worst. With such a law in place, the use of force in protests is now legally more sound and will continue to escalate.
Katie is a student from Exeter University where she is studying English Literature and Spanish. This year she is interning with Chile Today as part of her year abroad in Latin America. She believes in the importance of a global newsroom which spreads the news of the world to every corner and gives voice to the people.