Gerardo Van der Meer, who suffered an eye injury at the hands of police during a protest, talks to EFE in Santiago on 10 July 2023. EFE/Elvis Gonzalez

Chileans with police-inflicted eye injuries feel abandoned

By Elvira Osorio Seco

A woman walks past a photograph of Jorge Salvo, victim of a police-inflicted eye injury who took his own life, displayed on a building in Santiago on 26 July 2023. EFE/Elvis Gonzalez

Santiago, Aug 3 (EFE).- The long wait for justice, the lack of psychological support, and delays in receiving the aid they were promised has left the more than 460 Chileans who suffered serious eye injuries at the hands of police during the mass protests that erupted in October 2019 feel abandoned by the state.

Marta Valdes, spokeswoman for the Coordinator of Occular Trauma Victims and Families, talks to EFE in Santiago on 10 July 2023. EFE/ Elvis Gonzalez

The Coordinator of Victims of Ocular Trauma disclosed in June that one of its members had taken his own life “after struggling for more than three years for justice and comprehensive reparations without obtaining results.”

“Jorge did not have timely justice nor the professional accompaniment and guidance he required, like the majority of the survivors of police violence, who moreover see how impunity has deepened in the country,” the group said.

The death of the 27-year-old brought to four the number of known suicides among people with police-inflicted eye injuries.

Jorge was hurt when an officer of Chile’s militarized national police, the Carabineros, fired at him from a distance of less than 25 meters (yards) during a protest in January 2020.

The incident took place in Santiago’s Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the uprising, near the spot where protester Gerardo Van der Meer, 23, suffered a similar injury.

“We went out together for the common good and to stop the injustice in this country and what happened to me and my comrades could happen to anyone,” Van der Meer told EFE.

What began as a protest against a small metro fare hike turned into a movement that brought 1.2 million people – more than 5 percent of the Chilean population – into the heart of Santiago on Oct. 25, 2019, to demand a more equitable economic model in a country where the richest 1 percent control more than a quarter of national wealth.

Thirty-four people died and thousands more were injured in the response of the security forces to the largest mobilizations Chile has witnessed since the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

“By the end of the year (2022), the Public Prosecutor’s Office had brought charges in only 140 of the 10,938 complaints of human rights violations by state officials relating to the social upheavals in late 2019. The cases resulted in 17 convictions and two acquittals,” Amnesty International said in its latest report on the state of human rights in Chile.

One of the obstacles to bringing cases has been the reluctance of Carabineros officers to be forthcoming to investigators, AI said in a statement to EFE.

The 2018-2022 administration of right-wing billionaire Sebastian Piñera launched a program to assist protesters with eye injuries, but that initiative was poorly funded and “created only to whitewash that government,” in the words of victims advocate Marta Valdes.

Last August, a few months after being sworn-in as Chile’s youngest president, Gabriel Boric, a former student leader who took part in the 2019-2020 protests, announced a new plan, PACTO, to provide financial assistance and psychological counseling to the people with eye injuries.

But the victims reject PACTO as inadequate.

“Jorge lived with debt, he couldn’t find employment, he had to pay rent, meet the expenses of his daughter, and that benefit (from the government) wasn’t enough. He got tired of waiting,” Van der Meer told EFE.

The Health Ministry, which administers the PACTO program, declined repeated requests from EFE to provide a comment.

“These suicides have happened because of the aggression of an agent of the state,” victim Natalia Avera said. “How many more people have to die for the government to take action?”

EFE eos-mmm/dr