During 2019’s mass protests against inequality, Chilean police blinded or partially-blinded almost 500 people yet have faced little accountability. We spoke to victims’ spokesperson Marta Váldes, whose son was one of those targeted.
Marta Valdés is a spokesperson for the Coordinating Committee of Victims of Eye Injuries (CVTO), a Chilean human rights organisation established to represent victims of state violence. Her 17-year-old son , Estebán Navarro, was one of nearly 500 people blinded or partially-blinded by police during mass protests in late 2019. Valdés’ son was, in her words, ‘one of the first injured’ on 27 October 2019 and ‘that’s when the issue started to appear in the media a lot because they were just shooting people in the face.’
Conscious of the difficult situation facing victims in general and her son in particular, Marta decided to seek truth and justice. Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, started to face numerous lawsuits over humans rights violations. These lawsuits were supported by the Chilean Human Rights Commission and led to meetings with the Chilean Parliament to build support that would carry the demands into international courts.
So far, CVTO’s campaigning has seen few advances beyond the implementation of the Comprehensive Eye Reparation Programme, a government programme administered under former Health Minister Jaime Mañalich. However, the exclusion of victims from developing this programme raised fresh concerns over potential detriments to their recovery and emotional wellbeing.
In late December, Alborada spoke to Marta about the ongoing campaign to support victims and their families.
First of all, what is the current situation for victims of eye injuries, a little over two years after the uprising?
There is great anger and frustration that the state that harmed them has abandoned them. People are angry because they are unable to continue their normal lives. What victims resent the most is the abandonment and impunity.
In that sense, I imagine that this can impact heavily on the families.
Yes, because often families don’t have the tools. The fact that we recently had the suicide of Patricio Pardo, another victim of eye injury due to police brutality, also reflects this abandonment: our colleague ended up having a breakdown, with little hope that the situation would change, which may have led him to take this decision.
We’ve been raising this issue since 2019, the need for truth and justice. And there has been no truth or justice and that generates and increases hatred.
What is the mental health situation of the victims?
Complicated, very complicated. The [government] programme provides a single therapist for more than 300 victims. No matter how willing a therapist is, it is not possible to provide serious treatment to such a large number of victims. We have colleagues whose prostheses have expired and not been replaced. This has not been resolved.
So the mental health issue is one thing, but in the end the problems come one after the other. And they always end up damaging your mental wellbeing. What I am saying is that our colleagues have been re-victimised, due to the issue of getting dignified health care which we have been requesting since 2019 but which has not yet arrived.
Do you think that victims have received sufficient acknowledgment politically, including by the Chilean political parties that call themselves leftwing?
We’ve met with socialists from the Socialist Party, the PPD [Chilean centre-left political party], the Communist Party. We were in talks about the issue of eye injuries: in fact, we were in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
Nobody could say that they were unaware of the situation of the victims, but where we are stuck is with the government. President Piñera never acknowledged the human rights violations and never apologised to victims and their families. The Right had no interest in improving health or the government programme.
As I was saying, we had meetings with [the current Minister of Health] Paris and [the Under-Secretary for Human Rights] Lorena Recabarren, but they were more of an image-cleansing exercise than anything else: there were meetings held to give the impression that they were listening to us, but deep down they were still doing the same thing and they didn’t listen.
What do you expect from the new government of Gabriel Boric and what concrete gestures has he shown towards you?
Boric is not yet in office, so it would be hasty to say anything now. But at least so far the assessment is positive. He held meetings with victims of eye injuries and made commitments, which he then repeated in his speech. Basically, he committed himself to a policy of truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition. So we think he should continue in that way.
If this is not the case and if he does not comply – which I doubt – we are going to take to the streets. If we gave him our support, it is because we believed he could do something for this and for justice. Let’s hope that he does.
As Coordinator of Victims and Relatives of Eye Injuries, have you had meetings or been close to other organisations of victims of the uprising?
Yes, we have participated as Coordinators in activities for political prisoners, for [Cristián] Valdebenito, who was killed by police during the protests. We are always in solidarity with our comrades. We also did it with Óscar Pérez, a young man crushed by police vehicles, so what we want, beyond the fact that different Coordinating Groups have been formed, is for everyone to receive truth and justice.
What would a real policy of truth, justice and reparation for the victims of the uprising imply for you?
What we want is for our comrades to be able to live in peace. We must punish not only those who fired the guns but also those who gave the order.
The formula is simple: if you find truth and justice, you find reparation and you find no more repetition. So we cannot do it any other way. But we cannot do it like in the past with the victims of the dictatorship, with impunity maintained, because that is nothing more than opening the way for the repetition of human rights violations in the future.
What is your view of the Chilean police and their actions, considering, for example, that the former director of the institution, Mario Rozas, has not been held accountable for the human rights violations that he oversaw?
I want the Police who shot my son to pay, but also Mario Rozas, who gave them ‘laissez-faire’ to do whatever they wanted.
Since the Chilean revolution started, I can’t go near the Police. I believe that it is an institution that was created to protect all Chileans and they are not fulfilling this. Nowadays, it’s difficult for children to approach police for help, with the credibility crisis they have. There have even been robberies and thefts within the institution… and the only way to regain confidence is through drastic and profound change. And it is very important to train human rights defenders, because otherwise they will continue to do the same thing. This government has given them the opportunity to do that.
What do you think of the fact that Fabiola Campillai, who lost her eyes to police violence during the revolt, has been elected to Parliament, while Patricio Maturana, the policeman who blinded her for life, is not in prison?
It’s like what happened with Gustavo Gatica, another well-known victim in the protests, who was also blinded. On 27 December, Fabiola has an arraignment with him [Maturana] and we hope that the arraignment will not be suspended as has happened so many times in these cases [editor’s note: at the time this interview was published, the trial against Patricio Maturana was again postponed]. Because in the end, as long as this government is in power, they will continue to protect the police.
So it is complex… here, justice does not operate fairly: on the contrary, we have comrades in political prison for two years without evidence and with precautionary measures. The police who fired [the projectiles which have blinded people] are enjoying their normal life, and our comrades are in prison and cannot live their normal life.
They are accused of damaging infrastructure, but the main issue is that although the police did not damage infrastructure, they violated human rights. So it seems that infrastructure is more important than human life, because police officers raped, shot and killed people.
We hope that under [Boric’s] government things will be different because we also depend on what the parliament does. We are looking for legislation on these issues, because the truth is that there is also a part of both the Chilean National Congress and Senate that is very ignorant and that thinks ‘they were doing something’ or ‘they were asking for it’.
What can you tell us about those affected by eye injuries as social fighters? What is their example and what can they teach us in the struggle for a Chile that is truly fair and dignified in justice?
I think that the example left by victims is very strong. When you talk to them, none of them regret where they were or what they were doing: they were comrades who were demonstrating peacefully: the courage they have, their ability to carry on and move forward.
The strength of Fabiola and Gustavo is the best example. Fabiola, having become totally blind, still sought to help others through politics. Gustavo takes refuge in music to heal himself and give something to the youth. So they set a great example. They say they have tremendous anger but what they are not afraid of is fear.
This generation is not inhibited, it is not the Chilean generation of the 1980s, when it was much harder to fight against the dictatorship. I see a lot of courage in the young people on the front line. They have stood up with dignity and refused to give up what they are fighting for.