It was about 7 a.m. on Friday, May 12, 2017, when the national police of Chile, or Carabineros, broke into a Mapuche student residence in Temuco, the capital of the Araucanía region. Roommates of 18-year-old Fabiola Antiqueo, who studies visual arts at the Catholic University of Temuco, had participated in a protest that morning to support Mapuche political prisoners. After they got back home, her student residence was attacked with tear gas without warning.
Like other students in the residence, she had to dodge several tear gas bombs, but luck was not on her side. She took a direct hit in her left eye. While she bled, her companions called for an ambulance twice, but it never arrived, and she had to get a taxi to take her to the hospital. That weekend, she lost her eye.
In an interview with Global Voices, Fabiola stated that:
En ningún momento, [desde el hospital] hasta el día de hoy; nadie se ha acercado por parte de Carabineros. Nada. Ahora, lo que tenemos certeza, es que van a tratar de sacarse esta culpa. Van a decir que todo fue mentira, que fue un accidente, que estaba de noche, por la luz, que no se fijaron. Eso van a tratar de hacer.
To obtain justice, she will have to face Carabineros, one of the most powerful institutions since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile for 17 years until 1990 together with the three branches of the armed forces.
And though the incident that Friday was not like the recurring confrontations instigated by Carabineros in rural communities of Araucanía — like the one that took place this past June 14 when military vehicles barged into a school with tear gas — it seems to denote a modus operandi of police forces in the region.
Even the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the United Nations, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, expressed his concern this past March 29, 2017 “about the reports of the use of excessive force and other abuses against indigenous group members”.
Tenemos la necesidad de avanzar en la superación del conflicto entre el Estado chileno y el pueblo mapuche.
Araucanía is an important region for the country’s major timber companies, which the Mapuche community want out from their ancestral land, known as Wallmapu, in their native Mapudungún language.
The land conflict with the largest indigenous group in the country has gone on over dozens of years and is facing one of its worst moments. The current president, Michelle Bachelet, classified it as “errors and horrors” this past June 22 after asking for an apology and announced a new socioeconomic plan to help the indigenous community.
Como Presidenta de la República, pido humildemente perdón al Pueblo Mapuche y a las víctimas de la violencia rural. Hemos fallado como país.
— Michelle Bachelet (@mbachelet) June 23, 2017
As President of the Republic, I humbly apologize to the Mapuche people and to the victims of rural violence. We have failed as a country.
— Michelle Bachelet (@mbachelet) June 23, 2017
Former president and the winning candidate in Chile’s primaries this past July 2, Sebastián Piñera — who according to local media has strong links with the companies that lead the timber industry in Chile — said that “we need much more than gestures” and affirmed that Bachelet “has not been capable of putting a stop to terrorism”, remarks that he has made on several occasions. (Even as the most disastrous forest fires in the history of the country at the beginning of the year unfolded.)
Frente terrorismo en araucania el gobierno debe definir en forma clara y categórica de qué lado está: con los terroristas o con sus victimas
— Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) January 8, 2017
Facing terrorism in Araucanía, the government must decide clearly and categorically which side they are on: with the terrorists or with their victims.
Also on social media, some people concluded that it was an alleged Mapuche terrorist group, which together with “ex members of Farc [sic]” among others, intentionally set fire to privately-owned eucalyptus and pine plantations.
Me da vergüenza que un buen número de chilenos, sin ningún antecedente, culpen a los mapuche o extranjeros de los incendios.
— Néstor Aburto 🇨🇱 (@NestorAburto) February 5, 2017
I am ashamed that a good number of Chileans, with no proofs, are blaming the fires on the Mapuche community or foreigners.
However, neither a socioeconomic plan nor a new president will be able to give Fabiola back her eye. “And I don't know whether to expect justice, because here in Chile it is difficult to find justice, above all with this topic”, explains the young visual artist.
Human Rights and Police Repression
Meanwhile, the Undersecretariat of Human Rights, a government body recently created in September of last year under the Ministry of Justice, is limited to promoting public policy.
In an interview with Global Voices, Lorena Fries, the body’s Undersecretary, reveals that the main complication within the legal framework to address human rights issues is that they “can't be in charge of the protection of rights, because we are, obviously, part of the government and the Executive branch.”
In her opinion, however, there have been great advances in terms of human rights since Augusto Pinochet was ousted in a referendum, despite the fact that many of his laws continue to be the norm.
And although paintball munition was taken out of Carabineros’ protest control tactics after a young man lost an eye some years back, Fries considers it very unlikely that the use of tear gas will be limited, despite it being classified as semi-lethal and although studies point to its dangerous after effects, including miscarriages.
In regard to Fabiola's case, Carabineros will begin an investigation to determine how tear gas was used and if it was in accordance with protocols. And if norms were not followed, they will be sanctioned, adds the Undersecretary.
Currently, its use is very common in the country and affects both protesters and bystanders in practically any protest, whether it has been approved or not — in Chile, people still have to obtain permission to protest.
Additionally, Chile’s Anti-Terrorism Law created in 1984 to combat leftist movements that rose up against the iron fist of Pinochet — despite being modified over the years — has been invoked an innumerable amount of times in conflicts in Araucanía during both of the last administrations, President Bachelet’s and presidential hopeful Piñera’s. But according to Fries, the Mapuche people are not considered terrorists.
And even though cases similar to those in the Pinochet era are still recorded, Fries does not consider it “acceptable to compare the current situation with that of the dictatorship”. And explains:
Una cosa es cuando los crímenes se cometen en un contexto de generalidad y sistematicidad y otra cosa es cuando, en la práctica, personas o funcionarios públicos violan los derechos humanos, que en este caso, las instituciones deben funcionar.
However, Fabiola, who is still recovering, thinks that things have not changed much.
Hace más de 10 años que esperamos justicia. Siempre se repite y han muerto tantos. Es tanta la represión que se vive, que no sé cómo decirlo.
Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, reported feeling appalled at hearing atrocious cases of abuse in his Chile mission summary in September of 2015. These include cases sexual abuse, in which nobody had been prosecuted.
El sistema actual y la impunidad que abriga, es una de las partes más visibles del legado de dictadura en Chile. La transición fue gradual y no un quiebre radical con el pasado, dejando así trazos del pasado que no caben en el Chile de hoy.
To date, there are many post-dictatorial cases of abuse in the country that portray a different reality that contrasts with the Undersecretary’s views. Maina Kiai detailed several cases, including sexual harassment of women by Carabineros, in which they were not able to prosecute the perpetrators.
In an interview with Global Voices, Jonathan Hidalgo and Sebastián Painemal, Fabiola's lawyers, say that the District Attorney of Araucanía has processed the requested proceedings for their report “satisfactorily” and that they are part of an investigation that is being led together with the Investigations Police. “Only two reports are needed: an expert report and some witness testimonies”. The crimes that are being sought are for “serious to very serious injuries”.
Similarly, the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) which has the capability of filing complaints directly against Carabineros, applied appropriate human rights protocols right after the incident.
But the lawyer for the INDH headquarters in Araucanía, Marcos Rabanal, explains in an interview with Global Voices, that despite the unobstructed actions of the public prosecutor, “a high-ranking Carabineros official in Araucanía hinted at a worrying theory about the case in front of the media: Fabiola's injury could have come from her own companions that had participated in the protest.”
Rabanal affirms that greater urgency is needed for these type of investigations and that there should be a stronger commitment to accuse Carabineros officials of crimes. And though he celebrates how the proceedings have been taken care of to date, he considers that it is necessary to stay on top of Fabiola's case. His experience with previous cases in the region has demonstrated that speed does not guarantee that the accused will be charged.
Tenemos el caso del joven Brandon Hernández Huentecol, que resultó gravemente herido en diciembre del 2016 por una escopeta antidisturbios y estuvo a punto de costarle la vida. Las diligencias se hicieron rápidamente, pero al día de hoy no se ha formalizado la investigación a pesar que la identidad del funcionario está establecida desde los inicios. Tratándose de funcionarios policiales, creemos que se demora demasiado si se compara con delitos que se imputan a personas naturales o personas Mapuche.
And he added:
No podemos quitar la presión del caso de Fabiola. Mientras no exista determinación de responsabilidades, esto no queda concluido. Esperamos que [el caso de Fabiola] se traduzca prontamente en una imputación concreta a funcionarios determinados y no se diluya en el tiempo.
The INDH lawyer states that, while the investigation is not formalized, the victim has no rights to assert, and the crime remains unpunished. And even if this important step has been achieved, other questions open up before obtaining definite justice.
And although Fabiola is not a lawyer, her point of view is the same as Rabanal.
Nos gustaría pillar a la persona que me disparó. Aunque obviamente la institución [Carabineros] lo va a encubrir y todo, yo sé que se va a saber quién fue la persona. Pero tampoco voy a esperar a que le den de baja, porque aquí en Chile pareciera que a cada Carabinero que mata le dan una medalla. Los protegen.
For Rabanal, there is a need to assign special prosecutors within the Public Ministry solely for these types of cases because conflicts of interest have already occurred when investigating Carabineros. He also reveals that there is “an excess of caution or fear” when judging the police institution.
Until a few years ago, the jurisdiction for judging a carabinero in a case like Fabiola's was under total control of the Military Courts. Though in theory it’s now a thing of the past, the dictatorship legacy seems to continue blocking judicial processes in practice.
For Fabiola, though, her priority is to go back to get her Visual Arts degree.
Prefiero preocuparme por eso más que por lo otro. Y estar tranquila. Tengo que tomar la batuta nomás como persona, como artista y como víctima. Es momento de concientizar realmente a la gente.
And though she feels supported by her whole family, companions and friends, Fabiola does not know what will become of her assailant. “I can't wait for justice, because I know that it's not going to come”.