A wave of student protests demanding education reform in Chile has been met with harsh repression, leading to charges of "torture" recalling the era of military rule. Clashes with police during President Michelle Bachelet's state-of-the-nation addres in Valparaiso made English-language headlines May 21. Demonstrators set up barricades and hurled fire-bombs, torching a pharmacy and supermarket, while police fired tear-gas and water cannon. A security guard reportedly died from smoke inhalation. Three days later, protesters actually invaded the presidential palace in Santiago, forcing their way past guards. Winning few headlines outside Chile is the controversy over abuse of arrested protesters. Most egregious is the case of Roberto Zambrano Freire, 18, who was arrested at a protest outside the National Institute, the country's most prestigious school, on May 17 and apparently beaten after being made to strip naked while in custody. The student's father, Roberto Zambrano Sepúlveda, says he is pressing for an investigation but is not optimistic, noting that "It is my boy's word against the Carabineros." He added: "The Carabineros of Chile continue operating with the same methods as the under the dictatorship." (TeleSur, BBC News, Diario UChile, BiobioChile, La Tendencia, RPP, Univision)
Bolivian President Evo Morales announced March 26 that his government will bring suit against Chile before the International Court of Justice seeking compensation for using the waters of the disputed Río Silala. Two days later, he made a visit to the river in Potosí department, where he declared, "Silala is not an international river." Chile's President Michelle Bachelet promptly responded that Bolivia has recognized the Silala as an international river for more than 100 years and said she would counter-sue before the World Court if Bolivia in fact brought a case. Originating in the high desert plateau of Bolivia's remote southeast, the Silala flows into Chile through a canal built for mining operations over a century ago. In 2009 Chile and Bolivia announced an accord to resolve the conflict, which would cut Chile's use of the Silala's water by 50%. But the pact was never formalized, and local communities in impoversihed Potosí demanded retroactive payment for Chile's past use of the waters.
Mapuche indigenous leaders in Chile are expressing outrage over the violent eviction of protesters who were occupying a government office in the southern region of Araucania last month. Some 40 local Mapuche residents had been occupying the offices of the National Indigenous Development Corporation (CONADI) in Temuco for three weeks when the building was stormed by troops of the Carabineros militarized police force Sept. 7. "The security forces, without warning, began immediately firing tear gas inside the building, even though they knew there were women and children inside," Mapuche leader Victor Queipul told Chilean media outlets. "These events...clearly show the inability of the government to engage in dialogue over the situation in La Araucania." The protest occupation was launched to demand resistution of usurped lands, and "demilitarization" of the Mapuche community of Ercilla, Malleco province, which has been occupied by police troops for months. (UNPO, Sept. 10; TeleSur, Sept. 8; PubliMetro, Biobio, 24Horas, Chile, Sept. 7)
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled (PDF) 14-2 Sept. 24 that it has jurisdiction to hear the case between Bolivia and Chile regarding land-locked Bolivia's access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia argued to the ICJ that Chile failed in its obligation to negotiate in good faith to grant Bolivia "fully sovereign access" to the Pacific, but Chile filed a preliminary objection that the ICJ had no authority to judge the dispute. The court reached its decision by relying on the Pact of Bogotá, in which Bolivia and Chile both agreed that the ICJ will have jurisdiction over matters regarding breach of an international obligation between American states. The court disagreed with Chile's argument that the dispute was one of territorial sovereignty and held that the subject matter of the dispute was a question of Chile's obligation to negotiate in good faith regarding access to the Pacific, granting the court the possibility of jurisdiction. Since the issue was not already decided by prior arrangement by the parties or by treaty in force at the time of the Pact of Bogotá, the ICJ ruled that it ultimately can hear the case.
One day after Chile's Supreme Court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for a "dirty war" crime, retired Gen. Hernán Ramírez Rurange shot himself in the head in his apartment in Santiago on Aug. 13. Ramírez was convicted as intellectual author of the "disappearance" of Eugenio Berríos, a chemist with the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA). Berrios disappeared in 1992 after fleeing to Uruguay to avoid testifying in assassination cases carried out under Operation Condor. Among the cases at issue was apparently that of former foreign minister Orlando Letelier, slain by a car-bomb attack in Washington DC in 1976. (EFE, 24Horas, Aug. 14; TeleSUR, La Trecera, Aug 13)
A group of about 70 indigenous Chilean Mapuche from the José Llancao community peacefully occupied a section of a government research farm in Vilcún commune in Cautín province, in the central Araucanía region, to further their demand for 60 hectares of land that they say belong to the community. The Carillanca Farming Research Center (INIA Carillanca) started as a private estate but has been operated as a research facility under the Agriculture Ministry for the past 50 years. According to the community's werken (spokesperson), Juan Alguilera Esquivel, the residents have been trying to reclaim the 60 hectares, which they say were usurped illegally by the owner of the private estate, for more than 20 years. The Mapuche, Chile's largest indigenous group, have been using land occupations since the 1990s in a campaign to regain land they consider ancestral territory. Local estate owners are strongly opposed to the community's claims on the research facility. "Not one meter should be sold," said Marcelo Zirotti, president of the Agricultural Development Society (SOFO). If the government gives up any land, "they'll be telling us, the farmers, that we should close up and go elsewhere." (Radio Bío Bío, Chile, Feb. 6; El Ciudadano, Chile, Feb. 6)
Retired Chilean army colonel Pedro Espinoza and former Chilean air force intelligence agent Rafael González Berdugo have been convicted in the murder of US journalist Charles Horman and US graduate student Frank Teruggi during the days after the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende Gossens. Judge Jorge Zepeda sentenced Espinoza—formerly an officer in the now-defunct National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) who has been described as the right-hand man of DINA head Manuel Contreras—to seven years in prison for the two murders. González Berdugo was sentenced to two years of police surveillance as an accomplice in Harmon's murder. Judge Zepeda ruled in the case on Jan. 9 but the decision wasn't announced until Jan. 28. Last summer the judge officially ruled that "US military intelligence services played a fundamental role in the murders" by supplying information to the Chilean military. (El Ciudadano, Chile, Jan. 31)
The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world's largest gold producer, faced another setback to its mammoth Pascua Lama gold and silver mine in late December when Chile's Supreme Court rejected its appeal of a lower court's decision on environmental fines. Barrick's Chilean subsidiary, Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, was disputing an environmental court's March 2013 ruling that a fine the government's Environmental Bureau had imposed on Barrick was inadequate. In a decision announced on Dec. 30, a Supreme Court panel rejected the appeal on a technicality: the justices held that Minera Nevada wasn't a party to the original case and therefore couldn't appeal the environmental court's ruling.