The prisoners of the 2019 riots in Chile, an ember in the hands of President Gabriel Boric | International

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Last Friday, while Gabriel Boric spoke for the first time as president from a balcony of the La Moneda palace, fifty hooded youths clashed with the police in the Alameda. Just 500 meters from the Plaza de la Constitución, crowded at the time with people, the air was impregnated with tear gas and the asphalt shone from the water thrown by the riot trucks. The demonstrators built bonfires in front of the policemen with shields, waiting for the next skirmish. “Boric traitor”, they shouted. They thus asked for the freedom of more than 200 people who have been imprisoned since the riots of October 2019, accused of violating public order. In the square, meanwhile, without stones but with flags, people reminded Boric of the pending debt. “Free, free, the prisoners for fighting,” they shouted under the presidential balcony.

According to data from the Chilean Gendarmerie, there are 211 people imprisoned for criminal cases related to the social demonstrations that occurred between October 18, 2019 and March 30, 2021. Of these, 144 are in preventive detention and another 67 have sentences. firm. The Government of Sebastián Piñera applied the State Security Law (LSE) against them, a mechanism designed to deal with crimes against public order that speeds up judicial processes and increases penalties. Created in the middle of the last century, the LSE was reinforced by the Pinochet dictatorship and applied during the democratic transition in various causes: from a bus drivers’ strike to the conflict between the State and the Mapuche over control of ancestral lands. In October 2019, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets, President Piñera invoked the LSE against protesters destroying the Metro and downtown Santiago. Many of those arrested for those incidents still are.

Boric accompanied the demonstrations at that time. And it can be said that his government is the son of the street demands of that time for an equitable distribution of wealth and a more present State. A good part of the voters of the new president were in the street, and he considers that those detained under the application of the LSE are political prisoners who must be released immediately, even through a presidential pardon.

In the twilight of Piñera’s term, Congress passed a pardon law that did not prosper. Boric had asked the outgoing Parliament to resolve the issue of prisoners, but had no luck. Now the ember burns in his hands. During his speech before the crowd gathered in front of La Moneda, in what was the first mass bath as president, Boric referred to the issue. He spoke of “repairing the wounds left by the social outbreak” and made an announcement: “Yesterday [por el jueves] We have withdrawn the complaints for the State Security Law, because we are convinced that as Chilean men and women we have to meet again and we are going to work; We have discussed it with the relatives of the prisoners, they know we are working on it.”

The withdrawal of the State as plaintiff gives a break to those arrested for the riots, but its effect is more political than judicial. Boric’s decision reaches 195 complaints under the State Security Law, but at this point 95% of prisoners are also charged with common crimes, according to data from the outgoing Ministry of the Interior. Lawyer Lorenzo Morales, from the Ombudsman’s Office, an organization born after the 2006 mobilizations of high school students in Chile, considered that Boric’s decision was “an important gesture”, but without practical effects. “It could be a gimmicky decision in political terms, but I would not like to stay there. It seems important to me, although I think there should be news of better situations, ”he said.

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The Ministers of the Interior and Justice, Izkia Siches and Marcela Ríos, said that the withdrawal of the complaints “was a promise embodied in the president’s program.” And they announced that “a reparation table will also be formed for the victims of human rights violations”, together with the support of the Ministry of Economy for businesses and small businesses that were destroyed by street violence. Later, Camila Vallejo, spokeswoman for the new government, said that Boric’s decision “has to do with the prospect of ending the abusive application of certain regulations.” “This is not that causes are eliminated,” she clarified.

The Chilean Executive does not have too many legal tools to end the cases against those detained during the social outbreak, unless it appeals for a presidential pardon, a decision that could have too high a political cost. There are not a few Chileans, even among Boric’s voters, who were frightened by the destruction of the Metro and entire neighborhoods turned into battlefields. Even today, every Friday, groups of young people gather in Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the protests, and have violent clashes with the police. The arrival of a government forged in the heat of the protests did not deactivate the ritual, as was made clear during the incidents that took place in the Alameda while Boric was speaking in La Moneda hours after assuming the Presidency.

The opposition has already warned that it will fight any attempt to benefit the detainees. “Ministers Siches and Ríos announced the withdrawal of the lawsuits filed by 139 criminals who burned, looted and destroyed the dreams of so many Chileans,” said deputy Chiara Barchiesi, of the Republican Party, the group of former ultra-conservative presidential candidate José Antonio Kast. “Republicans want to warn you that we are going to gather the signatures to challenge them at the time she signs the first document that will pardon these criminals,” added Barchiesi.

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