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Chile: State Security Law, Violence Deterrent or Repression?

On October 18, 2011, Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter invoked [es] the State Security Law to punish the persons responsible for the burning of a bus during protests convened by several of the country's unions to support the student movement.

According to the Minister himself, “this judicial action will be presented tomorrow, the reason is the behavior I hereby described, intercepting this public transportation bus, setting it on fire, terrorizing its passengers, is specifically considered in Letter C of the 6th article of the State Security Law”.

This article punishes those who “incite, promote or encourage” a standstill or damage the operation or prevent the access to public services [es] with a maximum conviction that may vary between five to ten years.

Students protesting in Chile. Image by Sebastian Poch Velasco, The Stroboscope on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Students protesting in Chile. Image by Sebastian Poch Velasco, The Stroboscope on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This has caused a huge controversy in social networks, mainly because it brings back memories from both Pinochet‘s dictatorship as well as subsequent Concert of Parties for Democracy (Concertación in Spanish) governments’ use of it to “crack down democratic actions”, as was described by Tomas de la Rementeria (@tomas_dr) in his column in the debate website Sentidos Comunes (“Common Sense”) [es]:

(…) A eso debemos sumar que la Ley de Seguridad del Estado es un cuerpo legal atávico, que representa todo su origen autoritario y antidemocrático (…)

Así la utilizó el ex ministro de la Corte Suprema Servando Jordán para perseguir al llamado El libro negro de la justicia chilena, de Alejandra Matus. La usó el ex senador y hoy empresario explotador Francisco Javier Errázuriz en contra del diario El Metropolitano por dar a conocer una investigación judicial contra el por falsificación de instrumento público.

También, el Comandante en Jefe interino de la FACH, el General del Aire Hernán Gabrielli, en contra de algunos presos políticos los que lo habían acusado de participar en torturas durante la dictadura. Otro caso emblemático es el del ex dictador Augusto Pinochet en contra del dirigente socialista Arturo Barrios por lo cual éste perdió sus derechos ciudadanos por un largo tiempo. En 2008 se le invoco a tres jóvenes que tenían material impreso alusivo a ideas anarquistas y a la fabricación de bombas molotov. Estos casos muy dudablemente ponían en peligro la seguridad del Estado, sino que más bien se trataron de poner mordazas a dichos contra autoridades o a generar delitos en situaciones de estado donde no había ninguna acción violenta.

(…) To that, we should add that the State Security Law is an ancestral legal body, that represents everything from its authoritarian and antidemocratic origin (…)

That is how it was used by the former Minister of the Supreme Court, Servando Jordan, to prosecute the so called El libro negro de la justicia chilena (Black book of Chilean justice) by Alejandra Matus. It was employed by the exploiter businessman Francisco Javier Errazuriz against El Metropolitano (The Metropolitan) newspaper for raising awareness about a judicial investigation against him for forging a public instrument.

It was also the case of FACH's interim Commander in Chief, General del Aire Hernán Gabrielli, against some political prisoners who had accused him of participating in tortures during the dictatorship. Another well known case is that of former dictator Augusto Pinochet against the socialist leader Arturo Barrios, after which he lost his citizen rights for a long time. In 2008 it was invoked against youngsters that had printed material related to anarchism and for putting together Molotov bombs. These cases dubiously put in danger the State security, they were rather gags for statements said against the authorities or crime-generators of situations that were free of violence.

Some Twitter users criticized the over-reaction to this measure, like the journalist, professor and blogger Alexis Cares (@alexiscares) [es]:

Me van a perdonar, pero esto de invocar la Ley de Seguridad del Estado es como salir a matar un ratón con una bomba atómica

You will excuse me, but this [business] of invoking the State Security Law is like going out to kill a mouse with an atomic bomb

Others defended the decision, qualifying the vandalism as an act of terrorism, like Graciela Saavedra V. from Pichilemu (@graciela_sv) [es]:

los que quemaron el el bus no son delincuentes son terroristas. Ley de seguridad interior del Estado es NADA cn su delito.

those who burnt the bus are not delinquents, they are terrorists. The State's Internal Security Law is NOTHING compared to their felony.

Or Angel Lagos (@Miganyan) [es], who supported it with irony:

Quien crea q quema del bus fue acto de protesta, también debería creer q USA invadió Irak para defender democrac.Ley de seguridad del estado

Those who believe the bus burning was an act of protest, must also believe that the USA invaded Iraq to defend democracy. State Security Law

And Hans Rolle (@HansRolle) [es] who echoed the sentimenst of many on Twitter:

Ley de Seguridad del Estado y mano. No puede ser que un puñado de weones sitien la ciudad y causen terror en los habitantes.#eso

State Security Law and that's it. It can't be that a bunch of thugs besiege this city and cause terror on its inhabitants. #period

When Ley de Seguridad del Estado (“State Security Law”) became a worldwide trending topic, many were curious to know what this law was all about. Some Twitter users tried to explain it in 140 characters and others sent links.

Claudio Barrios (@cloud_barros) [es] commented:

Si ocupan la ley de seguridad interior del estado, recuerden que deben encontrar a los sujetos que cometieron el ilicito no ha [sic] cualquiera

If the state's internal security law is used, remember that they have to apprehend the suspects who committed the crime, not just anyone

The Twitter account of Bio-Bio Radio (@biobio) [es] shared:

[ENTREVISTA] Abogado explica la Ley de Seguridad del Estado: “Las penas son grotescamente mayores” http://t.co/JXMTUcwB

[INTERVIEW] Lawyer explains the State Security Law: “The sentences are grotesquely bigger” http://t.co/JXMTUcwB [es]

Other netizens are worried about the consequences the enforcement of this law will have on freedom of speech, like blogger Andreitatop who published the post “La Ley de Seguridad del Estado… bienvenidos a Chile sin derechos” (“State Security Law… welcome to a Chile with no rights”) [es]:

Cada vez que sale la noticia que Hinzpeter quiere aplicar esta ley me da miedo (…) A mi juicio, aceptar la utilización de esta ley es volver a los tiempos donde la libertad era acallada con puños y la voz del pueblo silenciada con sangre. Donde no había derechos que reclamar ni instituciones a las cuales hacer nuestras quejas (…) Es volver a punto cero. Y que este legalmente aceptado.

Every time the news of Hinzpeter wanting to enforce this law comes out, it scares me (…) In my opinion, accepting the application of this law is going back to the times where freedom was cracked down with fists and the people's voice was silenced with blood. When there were no rights or we couldn't claim our complaints to institutions (…) It's going back to the starting point. And that it is all legally accepted.

This measure is a hot topic of conversation. The government meanwhile, through its spokespeople, has responded to criticism [es] pointing out that “what's right is to have all promoters of violence behind bars and not burning buses”.

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