The Black Lives Matter protests and the police response in the United States bring back memories for those permanently injured by last year’s protests. Thirty-one-year-old Jesús Emerson Llancan Vidal from Puente Alto was among the first Chilean protesters who lost an eye during the demonstrations in Chile. He sees similarities with the situation in the US: “The people are fed up with the inequality”.
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, tens of thousands of people in cities across the United States, and later in countries around the world, took to the streets and demanded the end of racism and police violence. During the first days of the protests, American police officers seemed to aim deliberately at eyes of protesters and journalists, leaving some of them permanently blind in one eye.
These scenes have brought back bad memories to those who experienced the Chile protests of late 2019, when over 400 protesters were blinded in one eye, and sometimes even both eyes, after being hit in the face with rubber bullets or tear gas cannisters. One of those protesters was Jesús Emerson Llancan Vidal, a 31-year-old man from Puente Alto. On Oct. 25, he was shot around the corner from what protesters dubbed Plaza Dignidad, in the center of Santiago.
“The images of those blinded at the protests in the United States brought back a trauma. It angered and saddened me at the same time. Once again, it’s like human rights are not worth anything”, Llancan tells Chile Today. He sees similarities between the Black Lives Matter protests and the protests in Chile last year. “The people are fed up with the inequality. They demand dignity, equal treatment, nothing more. It is like a global revolution.”
The way that riot police acted in the first days of the protest movement in the United States, targeting journalists and deliberately aiming at eyes, shows what’s wrong with the institution, according to Llancan. “Those cops are trained to obey orders and not feel any pain or emotions. If they need to torture, they will. They shoot at your eyes because they want to mark you for the rest of your life. It is like they want to say, ‘look what happens if you step in my way.’ ”
Jesus was one of the main characters in the Pulitzer Prize winning video production of The New York Times:
“The Majority of the People Live on a Day-to-Day Basis”
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus that has hit the district of Puente Alto worse than any other district in Chile, Llancan is staying at home. His work is temporarily suspended. “I have close ones who are infected with the coronavirus. We need to take care of each other”, Llancan tells Chile Today. In Puente Alto, however, the situation is difficult. People suffer from hunger and those who worked in the informal sector have lost their income. “The majority of the people live on a day-to-day basis. There are shantytowns here where the State is completely absent. I try to help with my friends by collecting food for the community kitchens.”
The case of Llancan was one of the most extreme. The rubber bullet that hit him caused his eyeball to explode. He was supposed to receive a prosthetic eye in April, but the coronavirus outbreak halted all non-Covid-19-related operations. Regardless, because of the dire situation in the public hospitals in Puente Alto, Llancan does not want to return to one before the pandemic is over.
For now, there is nothing else he can do but wait. “Every day I remember what happened. I try to live with it, but it is not easy. I am marked for the rest of my life. I have not seen a psychologist yet, because of the coronavirus outbreak and I try to avoid news. But when the protests return in Chile, I will return too.”
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.