Human Rights

Hate speech incidents in Chile: how far does freedom of speech go?

SANTIAGO – In Venezuela, yesterday marked a day of conflict and tensions. In Chile, there were also both verbal and physical conflicts, related to Venezuela. Supporters of Maduro yelled provocative slogans to other protesters. How far does the freedom of expression in Chile go?

In Chile, both supporters and opponents of Nicolás Maduro took to the streets to voice their opinions about Venezuela’s situation. The two groups clashed outside the Venezuelan embassy and the Carabineros intervened.

It started on the outskirts of the embassy: a group of Maduro supporters met to show their support for the Chavista leader.

Words come to blows

But the demonstration changed course when an opposition group appeared. Both groups then raised and shouted slogans at each other, and tensions increased. The confrontation soon got out of hand, verbally and physically, with the two sides kicking and raining blows on one another with fists and flags. Carabineros then threw cold water on the situation – literally – with a water cannon. The day ended with five arrests: four Chileans and one Venezuelan.

Two opponents must make common cause on Venezuela

“Communist maricones…”

Out of all the acts that marred the day, the one that garnered the most attention was a slogan that Maduro opponents sang: “Communist maricones (faggots), they killed your relatives for being weones (motherfuckers)!

This slogan alludes to the people murdered during the civic-military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. It calls to mind the dark period in Chilean history when many who had a communist or Marxist political ideology – as the dictator called it – were brutally murdered or “disappeared.” Even today, some are still searching for their relatives.

The slogan generated immediate criticism and was rejected by many authorities. The Communist mayor of Recoleta, Daniel Jadue, via Twitter, said those involved were “the supporters of Sebastián Piñera’s Venezuelan coup friend.”

According to news portal Emol, the president of the Communist party, Guillermo Teillier, said that it offended them as much as the victims of the Pinochet dictatorship.

What is the limit?

In this regard, a question arises about the freedom of expression. What is the limit? When does someone’s expression become hate speech?

Chile Today talked about this with Nicolás Freire, political scientist and academic at the School of Government and Communications of the Central University of Chile.

Freire said that in this globalized world, “the balance between freedom of expression and fostering hate speech must come into play,” but that, at present, “the boundary between those [things said] that are part of freedom of expression and [those that go] beyond is not well demarcated.”

Freire also pointed out that Chile “has a trauma” when it comes to freedom of expression, one that stems from the time of the dictatorship, and it causes Chileans  to “misunderstand” the concept.

Nevertheless, Freire clarified that what happened outside the embassy was “incorrect.” In short, “that line was crossed,” freedom of expression devolved into “hate speech, and, in some cases, even xenophobic” speech.

Legal action may follow

According to Teillier, currently under review is possible legal action against those responsible and one of the primary instigators is believed to be a militant or sympathizer of a Chilean right-wing, conservative political party.

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