Chile’s Mapuche population has long struggled for greater rights. So many warmly greeted President Sebastián Piñera’s recent promise to give “top priority and urgency” to finding a constitutional solution that will recognize Chile’s Indigenous Mapuche people, a 700,000-person strong minority group that constitutes 6 percent of Chile’s population. His reaction comes after a month of increased tension in the southern Araucanía region, where the majority of the Mapuche live.
After a mid-January summit was held in Temuco, Araucanía’s main city, Piñera has promised to set up a council for Indigenous peoples that is “truly representative of the community’s history, tradition and culture.” This is a positive first step in trying to integrate the Mapuche into the political process since they currently do not have any representation in Congress. At the same time, demands by the Mapuche for an independent state were ignored. The Indigenous group’s main struggle is for the return of what its members claim are their ancestral lands.
It is a positive sign that Piñera and the Chilean government seem to be trying hard to quell violence within the Araucanía region and are beginning to open up dialogue and negotiations with the Mapuche.
But efforts toward reconciliation are being viewed in an increasingly cynical manner by both sides.
The dismissal of Walter Ramirez, a policeman who killed Mapuche leader Matias Catrileo in January 2008, has been called tactical by Ramirez’ lawyer Gaspar Calderon. Calderon told CNN Chile that his client is a victim of "popular justice” and suggested that the decision was made merely to give Chilean Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick something to offer the Mapuche ahead of the Temuco summit.
As Chileans wake up tomorrow for municipal elections throughout the country, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has urged his citizens to investigate their local candidates online before arriving to the polling stations.
If his advice is heeded, it may well be a first in a day of many firsts. Given that a center-right government is in place for the first time in two decades, dark tales from the Augusto Pinochet-era dictatorship have appeared in the press smearing some prominent politicians from the center-right—including Cristián Labbé, former mayor of the Providencia commune in Santiago and a current candidate in this year’s elections.
A profile of Labbé published in El Mostrador just days ago is a reminder that, while Chile may now have a functioning democracy, many of its politicians, laws and constitution still survive from the dictatorship.
After being stalled in Congress for seven years, a bill formally sanctioning discrimination became law in Chile yesterday. President Sebastián Piñera urged lawmakers to speed passage of the measure after the brutal killing of gay youth Daniel Zamudio earlier this year set off a national debate about hate crimes.
The Ley Antidiscriminación, also called Ley Zamudio, imposes penalties for acts of discrimination by race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, economic status, religion, or sexual orientation. Individuals may file anti-discrimination lawsuits and a judge must issue a ruling within 90 days. Penalties range from $370 to $3,660, but may be increased in the case of injury. The law also provides for criminal sanctions against violent crimes and requires the State to develop public policies to end discrimination.
Chile is one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. Divorce was only recently legalized in 2004, and abortion remains illegal in all circumstances. Conservative lawmakers had stalled on the anti-discrimination legislation, which was originally proposed by President Ricardo Lagos in 2005, on the grounds that it would open the way toward legalizing same-sex marriages. However, after 24-year-old Zamudio suffered fatal injuries from a brutal hate crime, the local and international community and President Piñera moved quickly to enact it. The bill was approved by a majority in both houses of Congress.
“Thanks to Daniel’s sacrifice, today we have a new law that…will enable us to confront, prevent and punish discriminatory acts that generate such pain,” said Piñera at the signing ceremony, where he was joined by representatives of the LGBT community; Jewish, Muslim and Indigenous groups; and Zamudio’s parents, among others.
Chile's proverbial education debate has this taken a new turn this week after a seven-month investigation revealed that a number of universities are illegally operating as profit-oriented businesses.
According to a report conducted by a special investigation committee, eight universities violated anti-profiteering laws amidst findings of increased salaries among executives, circulation of finances between companies under the same private ownership and outsourcing of services as means of generating revenue.
Among the universities accused are: Universidad de las Américas; Universidad Andrés Bello; Universidad Viña del Mar; AIEP-Andrés Bello; Universidad Santo Tomás; Universidad de Artes, Ciencias y Comunicación; Universidad del Desarrollo; and Universidad del Mar.
The findings of the investigation, which will be sent to the Ministry of Education for further action, exemplify the disparity between Chile's ever-growing student movement gunning for free, higher-quality postsecondary education and the perspective of Chile’s federal executive branch, led by billionaire President Sebastián Piñera.
Piñera's cabinet includes Ministers Cristián Larroulet and Joaquín Lavín who are both founders of Universidad del Desarollo. When questioned on the issue while in Mexico for the G-20 summit earlier this week, Piñera deflected attention to a youth uprising influenced by ideas that in his view are simply wrong: "Remember that the main leaders of this movement belong to the Communist Party and they have a vision of society that is very different to this president."
Despite transferring presidential power to democratically elected Patricio Aylwin in 1990, General Augusto Pinochet’s reign as military ruler and dictator (1973-1990) remains a controversial topic among the Chilean people. It then came as no surprise that the lead-up last week to Sunday’s screening of “Pinochet,” a sympathetic documentary paying homage to the army general, led to significant public backlash.
“Pinochet” aims to outline political context leading up the 1973 military coup and focus on the positive outcomes of the consequent 17-year rule. Over 1,000 people attended the screening at Santiago’s Teatro Caupolicán on Sunday, including politically conservative invitees from the United States, Spain, France, and Argentina. As the opening credits appeared on screen that bore the title of the dictator’s surname, the audience erupted into empathic applause.
Protest groups lobbied to have the screening banned, calling for the federal government to clamp down on what they see as implicit approval of the human rights violations that were committed across 17 years. More than 3,200 people were murdered or disappeared during Pinochet’s rule, while 37,000 cases of torture and illegal imprisonment have been documented.
“In Chile, state-sponsored terrorism existed, torture existed, forced disappearances and executions existed, along with the systematic violation of hundreds of Chileans for over 17 years. We can’t allow a tribute to this,” human rights activist Alejandra Arriaza decried last week.
Top stories this week are likely to include: proposed OAS human rights commission reform; OAS meeting underway in Bolivia; Pacific Alliance meeting on Wednesday; Peru-Chile relations; and no end in sight to the anti-mining protests in Peru.
OAS Human Rights Reform Considered: Organization of American States (OAS) member states such as Ecuador and Venezuela are calling for reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the independent human rights organ of the regional body. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called for changes such as cutting funding for the OAS special rapporteur on press freedom, warning that the OAS “will disappear” otherwise, which earned the endorsement of Venezuela. Insulza has further called for renegotiation of the IACHR’s statute and procedures including allowing governments to decide how the IACHR monitors them. Last Friday, the Washington Post editorial board responded to these proposals, writing, “It’s not surprising that Venezuela and its allies would push for noxious initiatives, or that Mr. Insulza would serve as their frontman […] Canada and the United States… and their democratic allies should work to ensure that the Insulza proposals are rejected—and that the OAS is perserved as an institution committed to democracy and human rights.”
AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini concurs: “The reasoning behind the proposals that Insulza is bringing to the General Assembly is unclear. What is clear is that their effect would be to whittle away at much of the independent voice of the Commission—the most effective office in the OAS—and he’s doing it by making common cause with some suspect governments."
Developments at the OAS General Assembly: Representatives from the 35 OAS member states are in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from June 3 to 5 for the organization’s 42nd General Assembly. In addition to the IACHR reforms, other issues on the table include Bolivian President Evo Morales’ desire for forward movement in regard to his country’s lack of access to the Pacific Ocean, a longstanding dispute with Chile. Argentina’s leadership wishes to rally hemispheric consensus around its claim to the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands. OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza briefed the assembly that Latin America is still far from achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The UN has set 2015 as its target date for achievement of the MDGs. But expectations for concrete results are not high, notes Sabatini: "The OAS general assembly has become a theater for overreach and meaningless debate."
Recent acts of violence alongside pending legislation and international pressure have brought to light the pressing need for lawmaking in support of LGBT rights in Chile. Together with protests for reforms in the education system, the public seems to be increasingly impatient about what the government is doing to protect LGBT rights. These demands are important beyond the scope of gay rights, because they have brought attention to the need for Chile to recognize, accept and protect the human rights of an evolving, heterogeneous culture as a fundamental prerequisite for continued prosperity.
The passage of an antidiscrimination law, which remained unresolved for over seven years, by a close 58-56 vote in the Chamber of Deputies this month was a basic necessity for the country. The Chilean Movement for Sexual Minorities (MOVILH) notes that in 2011 gay, lesbian and transgender Chileans were increasingly outspoken in reporting abuse and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this recently passed antidiscrimination law does not deal with hate crimes per se, but rather defines illegal discrimination. Furthermore, certain passages have yet to be finalized in a mixed commission of Senators and Deputies on May 2. The recent death of gay youth Daniel Zamudio points to precisely why legislating solely on discrimination does not suffice in this case, serving as an exceptionally violent example as to why hate crimes require specific punishment under the law.
Zamudio received not only the public’s sympathy, but also worldwide attention including a briefing note from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesman, Rupert Colville, urging Chile to enact hate crime legislation. In this regard, the MOVILH also argues that Chilean society is not opposed to legislating on issues of gay rights and antidiscrimination in its entirety, but there is a lack of bravery and willingness within Congress to approach these pending issues. The recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ overturning of a Chilean court ruling against lesbian Judge Karen Atala, who lost custody of her children because of her same-sex relationship, is further international pressure for Chile to meet requirements stipulated by international agreements it has signed onto.
Chile’s gay rights deficit is worrying as the country continues to be viewed as an example for continued economic growth despite global market volatility. President Sebastian Piñera’s administration is cautious about giving into all public demands, as Chile’s Minister of Finance Felipe Larraín recently said: “If we surrender to the temptation of appeasing demands by giving in to all of them, we will never get to our final goal [development].” However, most gay rights issues rely merely on political willingness rather than investment for social welfare. Furthermore, acting on gay rights is not the investment equivalent of reforming a public education system.
Yesterday President Sebastián Piñera signed a bill to create the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, an agency expected to supervise Chile’s $30 million-telecommunications industry. Accompanied by the Minister of Transporation and Telecommunications Pedro Errázuriz, Piñera said the goal of the bill—which will now be sent to Congress—is to “ensure a deeper control that allows the protection of consumers’ rights and the rapid resolution of conflicts between users and service providers.”
The size of the industry and the lack of a proper regulatory infrastructure to support it motivated the bill. According to official data from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas, Chile has more cellphones than people. In September 2010 the country showed 100 percent penetration with 17.6 million cellphones for a population of 17.1 million people. In addition, there are 3.5 million fixed lines and 2 million cable TV subscribers, accounting for 98 percent of households being provided the telecommunications service. “With this level of demand we must worry about the quality of the service,” said Minister Errázuriz.
The government expects the bill to be approved by the end of 2012 and the agency to be operational by 2013. Among the tasks that the new agency would have under its control are ensuring that service providers comply with the law, enforcing the regulation (with fines up to 1,000 per cent), issuing and terminating licenses, collecting and administering information about the sector, and regulating prices. Currently, the system is administered by the Subsecretaría de Telecomunicaciones (Subtel). In practice, once the Superintendencia starts working it will take charge of Subtel’s control and punitive attributions, while the Subsecretaría will keep promoting the industry’s development and growth.
The bill to create the regulatory agency is part of a comprehensive plan to reform the sector. During the last 20 months, other improvements have taken place such as unblocking cellphones, a neutral network, mobile number portability, and most recently the completion of the first phase of a plan to remove charges for domestic long-distance calls. So far, over six million customers have benefitted from this elimination.
The leaders of widespread student and faculty protests in Chile yesterday announced plans to mount a national strike and an additional series of mass demonstrations to contest a far-reaching education reform bill supported by the government. In response, Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter indicated that his office would deny to students permission to demonstrate in downtown Santiago where prior confrontations with police have caused significant property damage: “The march will not be approved by our government due to the damage caused to property, bystanders and police. We will take all necessary measures to enforce the decision. It is time for the demonstrations to end.”
According to student leaders, the government’s proposed education reforms would allow for excessive levels of privatization in the education sector and lead to higher levels of indebtedness among graduates. “We analyzed the ministry’s proposal and students considered it a setback because it allows profit in the education sector. We do not see any structural changes, but only further privatization and perpetuation of student debt," said Univeridad Católica de Valparaíso official Nataly Espinoza.
Chile has long struggled with education reform initiatives and these latest demonstrations are the culmination of more than two months of smaller protests across Chile. Students are calling for a halt of the trend toward privatization in education and other basic services such as public transportation.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced several changes to his Cabinet yesterday, after his government’s approval rating fell to 31 percent, from 63 percent last October. The low approval is due in part to ongoing protests by students who demand reforms to the national education system. Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes will now take over the Education Ministry, and Pablo Longueira and Andrés Chadwick—two well-known senators from the conservative Unión Demócrata Independiente party, which is part of President Piñera’s Alianza por Chile coalition—have been assigned to the Ministries of Economy and Interior.
Thousands of students convened by the Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (CONFECH) have taken to the streets of Santiago and other main cities of Chile calling for reform of the education system inherited from the Pinochet-era. The protests started in mid-May this year and have intensified since then. According to a statement published on the CONFECH website, the mobilizations aim for the defense and restoration of public education, the increase of state expenditures on education, not-for-profit schooling, and democratization of educational institutions.
Mining and Energy Minister Laurence Golborne, who gained enormous popularity following the rescue of 33 miners in October 2010 and is thought to have presidential aspirations, will move to the Ministry of Public Works. He leaves behind the problem of increasing labor unrest at the state copper mine CODELCO.
Piñera has been criticized by other political leaders for his cabinet reshuffle. José Antonio Gómez, from the opposition Partido Radical party, questioned why the president has appointed a total of four senators from his Alianza por Chile coalition—out of 16 in the Senate—to ministry positions. Noting that party leadership will now designate senators to fill those seats, Gómez and others argued that the decision undermines democracy, as it does not give citizens the opportunity to vote for those who will represent them.