Nearly two-dozen people have been killed in social unrest in Chile. Hundreds more have been injured in protests over widening inequality. Security forces responding to the demonstrations now face allegations of human rights abuses.
CGTN’s Joel Richards reports from Santiago.
Last week, Natalia Aravena took part in protests near the presidential palace in Santiago. She said the police violently broke up what had been a peaceful demonstration.
“At first they shot into the air but then they started shooting at people and that’s when people started to run,” she said.
The 24-year-old nurse says she was caught in the crowds and hit in the face by a tear gas canister.
“I can’t see anything at all, I can’t even see light. There is nothing. I have lost all use of my eye.”
Officials say nearly 200 people like Natalia suffered eye injuries so far during the protests that have engulfed Chile over the past three weeks. Investigators put the blame on authorities.
“The police have allegedly fired small bullets, pellets and tear gas canisters at the body and specifically to the face of the demonstrators, ” said Magdalena Garces with the University of Chile.
The United Nations has sent a task force to investigate human rights abuses by security forces, amid allegations of torture and rape. There have been at least 23 deaths.
To give a sense of the scale of the allegations against the police, Chile’s National Human Rights Institute says that of all the cases it has filed against police for excessive use of force in the last nine years, around half of those cases have come in the last three weeks.
President Sebastian Pinera has pledged to visit victims of police violence and promised there will be investigations but at the same time announced measures to tighten security.
“Any excessive use of force will also be investigated by the prosecution and judged by the courts of justice.”
Official figures show there have been nearly eighteen-hundred people injured across Chile, but the Red Cross believes the number of injured to be up to 30% higher. Many protesters do not want to be treated in hospitals for fear of being arrested. The Red Cross volunteers are viewed as heroes as they lend assistance.
“I have worked during earthquakes, tsunamis and looting, but I’ve never seen anything on this scale, that lasts as long, that is as intense, and with so many people,” said Red Cross Dr. Rodrigo Fernandez. “It is shocking.”
Clashes between the police and protesters take place daily. The police chief has denied that the police have committed human rights abuses but accepts errors in procedure.
Some of the participants have a swagger about the rioting, but increasingly, it’s reports of excessive use of force against the many people demonstrating peacefully that is fueling the protests.