NATIONAL POLITICS

Constitutional Accusation Looms Despite End Truckers Strike

SANTIAGO — The truckers union announced an end to their week-long strike. The decision comes after an agreement was reached with the government. Meanwhile, opposition parties are planning to present a constitutional impeachment against Interior Minister Pérez, for failing to apply the State Security Law.

Exactly a week ago, on Aug. 27, the national truckers union went on strike. They blocked main routes throughout the country and paralyzed most freight transit activities. On Sept. 2, President Sebastián Piñera announced that the government had reached an agreement with the union, and that truckers would stop the strikes and protests.

José Villagrán, president of the Southern Truck Owners Union, held a press conference and explained the union’s decision: “(the government) is going to work on re-establishing the rule of law. Impunity is going to end in southern Chile.” Villagrán said the agreement with the government has not yet been signed, but that the union would monitor and ensure that what was promised is fulfilled. “If what we have agreed upon is not fulfilled, we will return to block the roads.”

Also read this interview of Chile Today with José Villagrán:

Truckers Strike: “The Government Hasn’t Done Anything For Our Safety”

The Agreements That Ended The Strike

The national strike unfolded as a result of several recent arson attacks on trucks in the southern regions. Among the petitions the union made when they announced the strike was the approval of a package of 13 bills related to the prevention, prosecution, and punishment of crimes like setting trucks on fire.

Among the bills the union asked to rush to confirm is the Juan Barrios Law, a law that would pay homage to a truck driver who died in March, after he suffered burns in an arson attack to his truck while he was sleeping, and that would increase penalties for those responsible for burning trucks and causing harm or death to others.

In a press conference, Piñera talked about these 13 bills and agreed with the truckers. “I would like to ask the Congress, one more time, to rush the discussion and approval of these bills that are urgent, necessary, and essential to fight against violence, crime, and terrorism.”

The summary that states the nine agreements the union reached with the government shows an investment of CLP$5.6 billion (~US$7.2 million) in police infrastructure, as well as an increase in aerial resources in the southern regions and the establishment of a special intelligence information unit.

The government also committed to increase vigilance on Ruta 5 Sur (South Route 5), which connects the central and the southern regions. Among other things, 36 additional surveillance cameras between km-markers 560 and 682 were promised, as well as 24 thermal cameras and 53 license plate readers on the main tolls.

The government also agreed to support the families of drivers who die or are left with a total or partial disability that is the product of terrorist crimes. They will grant grace pensions for the affected and scholarships for their children.

Baldemar Higuetas, the executive secretary of the truckers union, told Emol that their original requests were largely exceeded by the final agreement. “We saw advances (even in) ensuring that a burned truck will have a non-refundable subsidy from the state.”

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins: Pérez In Constitutional Crosshairs

Although the government and truckers were able to end a week of protests on a relatively positive note, not everyone is satisfied with how the government handled the strike. Opposition sectors argue that, while strikes by students and other groups have repeatedly been met with strong measures, the Piñera administration has handled the truckers with kid gloves – and this even though, as stated by the Chilean Supermarkets Association, the truckers strike resulted in food shortages in the southern regions. 

These sectors specifically accuse Interior Minister Víctor Pérez of failing to ensure the functioning of the supply chain by not applying the State Security Law, and they announced that they would present a constitutional impeachment against him.

Representative Raúl Soto, who is also chairman of the Party For Democracy, announced that a conclusion to the strike does not change these plans. “We have decided that the most consistent thing to do is carry on with the accusation because the harmful effects have already occurred. The Minister of Interior was unable to stand up to the truckers and rigorously apply the law. He acted negligently … and that action caused road blockages and shortages of essential products in the middle of a health crisis.”

In response, Pérez said that those interested have the legal right to pursue the constitutional accusation, but he asked them to act responsibly. “The government is acting responsibly. It strikes me that there is a willingness to promote the (accusation) in these times when, for example, … a violent group burned four or five houses in Contulmo and families were violently forced out of their houses, no one promoted actions of this nature. We all have to act responsibly.”

Read more about Victor Pérez:

The New Chilean ‘Prime Minister’: An Old Guard Conservative

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