It will cost Interior Minister Victor Pérez to explain why he applied “all the rigor of the law” – one of his favorite phrases – to those who come out to protest for whatever reason. And the minister will have to explain the difference in criteria with which he acted during the truckers’ strike. It’s not going to be easy.
The things that happened during the mobilizations of some truckers for almost a week made it clear that the former senator and now Interior Minister Victor Pérez cannot hide his sympathy for a group of leaders who belong to his party – Independent Democratic Union (UDI) – and who were even part of Sebastián Piñera’s support committee in the 2017 presidential elections. In addition to sharpening the perception of privileges and inequity – the reason for the social outburst in October last year – he left a huge doubt with his allies, who consider “public safety” as a kind of principle.
That principle, though, is apparently only valid when it comes to others. Even Gonzalo Fuenzalida, a parliamentarian from Piñera’s National Renewal (RN) party, said that “public order cannot have a double reading, the government has applied the rule of law differently than in other cases” during the strike. How is it possible that Victor Pérez could say at the end of the strike that it had been a “peaceful demonstration” when we all could see the blockades of roads and ports, and the bullying of drivers that did not participate?
What’s Minister Victor Pérez Doing?
This white-glove treatment of truckers showed an insecure minister – even hesitant in front of the microphones. Pérez’s performance can be described as less than mediocre. Let’s remember that this tough man, a pinochetista and former mayor appointed by the dictatorship, assumed his portfolio focused on attacking La Araucanía Region, which grapples with the Mapuche’s resistance to business and state. Previously, Pérez had engaged in harsh and aggressive speech, criticizing Michelle Bachelet’s lack of an iron fist in the area. He didn’t show the former president any courtesy.
But the truth is that things rather than improving have become more complicated in La Araucanía. Pérez has made a string of mistakes. He started to stimulate “citizen” evictions after his visit to the area, tolerating citizens taking on police duties and evicting a municipal building that was occupied by activists. He did not get involved in the negotiation with Mapuche leader Celestino Córdova.
Later, he allowed the Carabineros’ leader, Mario Rozas, to christen a new building “Rodolfo Stange.” In 1985, Stange was Carabineros leader when subordinates kidnapped and murdered three Communist Party members. The crime is known as ‘Caso Degollados’ (Slit-Throat Case) and commemorated with a monument of three giant chairs along one of Santiago’s main highways.
Not Up to the Task
Pérez’s bewilderment during the strike was evident. He looked anguished, his voice trembling – or is it always like that? He even made bad statements like saying “small cut-offs” were taking place, minimizing the fact that drivers slept on the road, violating the health law and the curfew. He could not even condemn multiple videos in which truckers prepared barbecues and drank alcohol without masks or social distancing, or violently blocked drivers that transported food or medicine. He just criticized the strikers who turned the road into a night-time establishment and danced with some nude women.
Only the National Prosecutor’s Office, on its own initiative, started actions in various regions, using the “anti-barricade law.” What a paradox for the right. They pushed that law obsessively.
The truckers finally achieved practically all of their economic goals, in what seemed more like an imposition than a negotiation. However, this is a short-lived deal. Government palace La Moneda has no capacity whatsoever to guarantee terms on the 11 promised bills. It has even less chance to achieve consensus with the opposition, especially regarding the Intelligence Law and the Carabineros reform. Neither can it guarantee the safety of passage or fulfill the promises made in the 2017 campaign, which led to the right’s biggest win in history in La Araucanía. Mainly, the crisis made it clear – for now – that Victor Pérez is more UDI party activist than minister.
Also read this profile:
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.