SANTIAGO – As part of its security agenda, the Interior Ministry plans to obtain acoustic dissuasive devices. Although labeled ‘non-lethal,’ health experts warned that these devices can cause irreparable physical harm. And taking inspiration from measures China’s Communist Party uses against protesters in Hong Kong, the ministry also wants to buy paint for the Carabinero’s water cannons.
Interior sub-secretary Rodrigo Ubilla said the government wants to acquire a crowd control technology called Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). According to local media reports, Ubilla said the device has been used in “more than 60 countries” and is non-lethal.
Ubilla added that, if approved, police forces would use LRAD from next year.
Originally, LRAD was designed for military purposes. Troops use it to send messages and alarm sounds over large distances. But domestic security actors soon realized its potential for crowd control. The technology was probably used for the first time in a civilian context in 2009, against protesters at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.
The device produces high-frequency sounds of around 150 decibels. For context, Chilean labor regulations forbid work in environments where noise exceeds 85 decibels.
And broadcaster Chilevisión cited ENT specialist Francisca Fernández as saying that “it is proven that [such sounds] can cause long-term damage in the human ear…or irreversible deafness.”
In a public release, experts from Universidad de Chile and Universidad de Valparaíso wrote “we demand authorities and forces of public order to reconsider the use of devices that can cause irreparable damage to citizens, especially those of long reach.”
"These sonic weapons emit sounds beyond permitted levels or those considered safe, causing severe damage…"
— Sandra Cuffe (@Sandra_Cuffe) December 6, 2019
LRAD had been used in Chile first during the Bachelet administration, specifically to confront protests on September 11, 2008, in Lo Hermida district.
The government also plans to acquire paint for water cannons and pepper spray. The paint would mark protesters and make them distinguishable in a non-protest setting. Repressive governments like Egypt’s have used the technique in the wake of the Arab Spring protests, and China’s Communist Party signed off on it to confront the Hong Kong protesters.
News outlet Cooperativa also reported that the government has already added 11 tear gas trucks, 21 police vehicles, and bought more equipment like helmets, gloves, and fire-resistant suits.
Camila Huecho is a journalism student at Universidad de La Frontera in Temuco, currently interning at Chile Today. As a freelance illustrator and Fellow at the Melton Foundation, she works to bring information and cultures together through communications and art.