SANTIAGO — Congresspersons from opposition sectors presented a constitutional accusation against former Minister of Health Jaime Mañalich for his handling of the pandemic. The measure generated controversy in diverse sectors. For his part, the former minister said that the reason the government failed to stop the spread of the virus had more to do with the lack of trust among authorities than with his management of the crisis.
Three months after Jaime Mañalich resigned as Minister of Health, left-wing congresspersons presented a constitutional accusation against him for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The argument is that he put the population at risk and deliberately withheld data.
The accusation was signed by 10: Claudia Mix (Commons party), Karol Cariola (Communist Party), Marisela Santibáñez (Communist Party), Marcelo Hernando (Radical Party), Miguel Crispi (Democratic Revolution), Patricio Rosas (Unir party), Tomás Hirsch (Humanist Action party), Esteban Vásquez (Social Green Regionalist Federation party), Ricardo Celis (Party For Democracy), and Diego Ibáñez (Social Convergence).
As expected, pro-government sectors are defending the former minister, arguing that the accusation lacks foundation and is only a political move to destabilize the government. Notably, opposition parties that normally come together are divided on this issue.
Controversy In The Opposition
Mix, the one who pushed for the accusation, announced that the group of 10 had filed the motion on Sept. 13, and asked the Socialist Party (PS) and the Christian Democracy party (DC) to support the accusation. Her request came after the PS and DC decided not to sign the accusation.
The president of the DC party, Fuad Chahín, told Agricultura Radio that although the party disapproves of Mañalich’s handling of the pandemic, “a constitutional indictment against a minister who is no longer in office, is a different thing. The decisions were not only up to him.” Chahín added that he was surprised that the accusation was filed without a consensus in the opposition.
Besides the constitutional accusation against Mañalich, there is another one being drafted against Interior Minister Víctor Pérez for not applying the State Security Law during the truckers’ strike, and a third against the Judge Silvana Donoso for giving parole to Hugo Bustamante.
Many representatives belonging to the parties that did not sign the accusation against Mañalich argued that Congress cannot review so many accusations at the same time. Gabriel Silber (DC), told BioBioChile that “the worse thing will be if now the opposition is interpreted as [using] this instrument to accuse everyone.”
As for the PS, representative Juan Luis Castro, also quoted by BiobioChile, addressed the urgency for the opposition to agree and “act in the same line … as this [division] only weakens the coalition.”
🔴 Hemos ingresado la #AcusaciónConstitucionalAMañalich. Gracias a todas/os los parlamentarios que nos expresaron su respaldo. Reitero mi llamado a las bancadas del PS y de la DC, que no se sumaron a las firmas, para que sí apoyen en la sala esta acusación #MañalichAcusado [1/3] pic.twitter.com/e6GL3kVJ6F
— Diputada Mix 🇨🇱 (@Claudia_Mix) September 13, 2020
Mañalich’s Alleged Mistakes
The promoters of the accusation against the former minister of health argue that the measures he took during the first months of the pandemic came too late, after the outbreak was already out of control. The accusation states that he put the population at risk.
In April, for example, when there were already 11,000 cases in the country, Mañalich said that closing schools was a big mistake.
They also criticize the way the former minister reported case numbers. For instance, on Apr. 7, he held a press conference during which he listed the number of those who had “recovered” from the virus and included in that number those who had died as a result of it “because they are not a source of contagion.”
Although he later admitted that what he said was a mistake, doubts kept rising as to whether the numbers were correct. Another situation that confused the public was the way the Ministry of Health reported the number of deaths caused by Covid-19. Ciper investigated the matter in June and revealed that Mañalich gave the WHO a far higher death count than the one he gave Chileans in his daily press conferences.
A week before his resignation, Mañalich admitted in a press conference that the quarantine measures in the Metropolitan Region (RM) had failed. Up until June 5, mobility had only dropped to 70 percent and he said that “for the quarantine to have a positive effect, mobility should fall to 35 percent.” The RM has seen the highest number of cases in the country, and many districts within the region remain under quarantine, some say for the lack of measures in the beginning.
Mañalich’s Own Assessment
Recently, the former minister attended a virtual workshop organized by the Jaime Guzmán Foundation and explained his handling of the pandemic and defended his decisions. He opened by saying that the country was going through a complex situation, “and whatever we did would have meant a violation of the population’s constitutional rights.”
He addressed the 2019 social crisis and said that many mayors and congresspersons from the opposition sectors were constantly accusing the government of using the Covid-19 outburst as a way to prevent the protests from happening again. “There was no interest in collaborating, especially from the mayors.”
The former minister said, “the only thing we could have done more radically was to absolutely close the borders. But the magnitude of conflict that that measure generated, when we suggested it, … it was very difficult.” He added that he does not agree with the current extended quarantines and that Chileans are living under a “sanitary dictatorship.”
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant