Whatever the outcome of the April referendum, Chile needs to unify. A united society seems unrealistic right now but is key to a successful implementation of a new Constitution. And to unify, systematic impunity must end.
The lack of confidence Chileans have in their institutions illustrates the social crisis most vividly. From Congress to Senate, the Catholic Church to the military and the police: they are seen as part of the problem not the solution. And that’s reasonable. Chile has a history of impunity for crimes committed at all levels, as white-collar crime by billion-dollar-companies and corrupt politicians or human rights violations during the protests are almost never punished. That is worrisome. Confidence is the foundation for a new country. And as long as the government does nothing to restore that confidence, Chile’s downfall is set to continue.
Recently, Congress approved a law that identifies white-collar crime as particular, so it will be punished extra harshly. It’s a necessary law – just as the recently approved Gabriela Law that identifies femicide as a particular crime. The message is: no more impunity in Chile. Last year, one of the biggest abuse scandals that hit one of the biggest institutions ended when victims of priest Fernando Karadima got a million-dollar compensation for their suffering. The church announced reforms, offered apologies, and showed willingness to end cover ups and impunity.
However, all those laws and initiatives ring hollow if the government doesn’t take more drastic steps to end systematic impunity. This applies especially to the protests that erupted since Oct. 18. During the wave of violence that followed, numerous cases of human rights violations have been registered by independent observers, and at least four of the globally leading human rights organizations have demanded reforms. The list includes torture, sexual abuse, killings, and beatings – while the silence from the government is deafening.
In the first 10 days of March, three protesters died because of police violence. More recently, a video appeared of a 69-year-old, beaten by two police officers, even though he was lying on the ground. Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel condemned the violence but didn’t take any action.
Who blinded Gustavo Gatica, a 21-year-old student, who received rubber bullets to both eyes? Who shot a teargas canister to the face of Fabiola Campillay, blinding her permanently too? What happened to the police officers responsible for the killings, torture, and sexual abuse during the protests?
As long as government officials talk and don’t act, as long as human rights violators remain unpunished, the crisis in Chile will continue. Or as Gustavo Gatica himself, in an open letter published on Tuesday said: “All murders, injuries, tortures and sexual abuses can’t go unpunished. Piñera, Mario Rozas (head of the Chilean police), Gonzalo Blumel (current Minister of Interior), Andrés Chadwick (former Minister of Interior) and all their accomplices must assume their political and criminal responsibilities”.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.