SANTIAGO — Chilean Investigative Police (PDI) arrested Claudio Crespo at his home. He is a former police officer accused of blinding 21-year-old Gustavo Gatica during the 2019 protests. Crespo was removed from the police force recently for allegedly deleting footage from the day Gatica was blinded.
In the early hours of Aug. 21, former lieutenant colonel Claudio Crespo was apprehended at his house. He is being accused of shooting Gustavo Gatica in the face during the 2019 protests. Gatica lost his eyesight as a result.
The 2019 protests were a wake-up call. But during the large-scale protests across the country, hundreds sustained eye injuries due to rubber bullets shot and tear gas canisters thrown by police for crowd dispersal. The human rights institute (INDH) reported that from October 2019 to February 2020, 445 people suffered eye injuries related to police action.
Of the total injured, Gustavo Gatica and Fabiola Campillay were left completely blind. Campillay received a tear gas canister in her face while on her way to work.
More on the Campillay case:
How Gustavo Gatica Was Blinded
Since the social crisis started in October, Gatica had attended several demonstrations to take photos. On Nov. 8 he went out to do the same but was blinded around 6 pm. According to daily La Tercera, Gatica agreed to meet a friend around 6.10 p.m. Meanwhile, the demonstrations started to get violent: a group started a fire at the headquarters of Universidad Pedro de Valdivia, while others looted churches, and tried to break into the Argentine embassy. Heavy police repression ensued.
When Gatica didn’t arrive at the place he had agreed, his friend called him but Jaime Bastías (50) answered. A few minutes earlier, Gatica had received pellets to both eyes and Bastías was assisting him. “His eyelids were closed and his face was covered by two streams of blood,” La Tercera reported. Later that day, Gatica was transferred to a hospital. After surgery to remove both bullets, the hospital informed on Nov. 26 that Gatica had fully lost his eyesight.
A History of Abusing Police Power
Crespo is accused of previously having abused his power. News outlet Interferencia reported that in 2018, Crespo shot a protester several times in the face, from less than 5m away. The protester was unarmed and did not sustain serious injuries.
In 2019, Crespo was promoted to lieutenant colonel. During last year’s social unrest, he was responsible for organizing several special forces pickets in Santiago. According to news site Cooperativa, last month Crespo was expelled after an internal review revealed that he had downloaded images from the GoPro device he carried the day Gatica was injured.
On Friday, Juan Carlos Carrasco, chief of the PDI’s human rights division, said that it was possible to establish Crespo’s responsibility in the incident. Jorge Martínez, Crespo’s lawyer, told Cooperativa that the arrest came as surprise, as they were never called or asked to provide any information. Martínez said Crespo “had been in the area since four in the afternoon, but at the exact moment (when Gatica was shot) he was not there.” The first hearing was scheduled for Friday.
Edited by Claudio Moraga
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