Human Rights NATIONAL

Chilean navy officers allegedly killed a homeless man in Iquique

On May 19, four Chilean naval officers allegedly killed a homeless man in Iquique. News of the incident was met with indignation from politicians and the military alike. The alleged perpetrators remain in custody, but authorities in Colombia, the victim’s country of origin, have requested that their Chilean counterparts “go beyond suspension.”

In the early morning hours of Friday, May 19, 61-year-old Colombian national Milton Domínguez Moreno was brutally beaten in downtown Iquique. The alleged perpetrators? Four Chilean naval officers. Domínguez, who was homeless and disabled – he needed crutches to walk – was taken to Iquique Hospital but died from his injuries later that morning.

The naval officers were subsequently arrested and taken into custody. Later that day, the Navy announced that they were also formally discharged. On Monday, May 22, the local Court in Iquique ordered preventive detention for the four, as they were considered “a danger to the security of society.”

As of May 24, the four remain in custody. One of the suspects, the one accused of being the most aggressive, is charged with homicidio simple (killing without premeditation or malice aforethought). The other three are accused of felony murder, as they participated in the beating and did not intend to stop their colleague.  

Who was the victim?

Domínguez worked in the Colombian city of Cali as a food delivery man, but had studied solar panel installation and maintenance. Upon discovering that there were career opportunities in Chile, he traveled, by foot, via Bolivia to Chile, to practice his profession.

Upon arrival in Chile in April 2021, Domínguez was taken to a temporary “sanitary residence” to wait out his period of quarantine. There, he suffered a fungal infection that slowly decayed his limbs. As a result, two of his fingers and his right leg had to be amputated. Thereafter, he needed crutches.

Domínguez regularly made use of a Hogar de Cristo (a Chilean Catholic charity) hospice or lived on the street. It was his eventual goal to earn enough money to buy himself a prosthetic right leg.

In the early morning of May 19, Domínquez was allegedly confronted by four Chilean navy officers, who served on the ship Almirante Cochrane, and who happened to be in Iquique to participate in the commemoration of the Day of Naval Glories on May 21.

That morning, the four navymen were on the lookout for “a gang of foreigners,” who had allegedly assaulted them earlier that night. They stumbled upon Domínguez, who they mistook for the gang’s leader. In a subsequent altercation, Dominguez was beaten to death.

Shocked reactions, Colombia requests severe punishment

The incident was partially recorded on film. The images of Domínguez being beaten with his own crutches shocked the country and led to outcries, both nationally and internationally.

In a statement during the commemoration of Naval Glories Day on May 21, the Chilean Commander in Chief of the Navy condemned the crime. Navy officers, he said, strive to follow the legacy of Arturo Prat (the naval hero that is remembered on May 21). “This type of violence does not represent the conduct of the thousands of men and women who make up the Chilean Navy,” he said.

Chile’s Minister of Defense Maya Fernández Allende tweeted her condemnation: “I wish to express our repudiation of this unacceptable and painful incident that occurred in Iquique. The officers have been dismissed, and we hope that justice will punish them accordingly. Their behavior does not reflect the values of the Chilean Navy.”

La Fundación Gente de la Calle, a Chilean non-profit organization supporting homeless people, was also fast to condemn the killing. In a country that is “trapped in a discourse about public safety,” they wrote in a statement, a violent act like the one that took place on May 19 should be “unequivocally rejected.”

The organization expressed its concern about the swiftness with which such crimes are often forgotten in Chile, and called upon the authorities to prioritize the well-being of vulnerable groups on the political agenda, “particularly those who are without family or institutional protection.”

Colombian authorities also issued a statement in which they lamented the killing of Domínguez and requested “a swift investigation and the punishment of those responsible.” In an official communiqué, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stresses that “legal actions must go beyond the suspension of the officers as announced by the Chilean Navy.”

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