Chile opposition files ‘constitutional accusation’ against Pinera

Constitutional accusation unlikely to succeed, but pressure mounts on president over alleged rights abuses during crisis

Chile protests
Demonstrators march while they hold a banner reading ''Pinera quit'' during a protest, in Valparaiso, Chile [File: Rodrigo Garrido/AFP]

Antofagasta, Chile – Opposition legislators in Chile formally presented a motion Tuesday to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Sebastian Pinera.

The “constitutional accusation” is rooted in human rights violations allegedly committed during the ongoing month-long crisis. Nationwide protests against inequality and injustice continue, as do police crackdowns.

The accusation is “due to the grave, repeated, generalised and systematic violations of the fundamental rights of people carried out by agents of the state in the past month,” opposition legislator Carmen Hertz said Tuesday in a public statement announcing the motion presented by representatives from several left-wing parties.

Constitutional accusations need between 10 and 20 backers to proceed. Tuesday’s had 11, but a previous attempt by a different political force failed to gather the minimum 10 signatures. The motion is unlikely, however, to gain majority support among legislators to move forward. 

Chile protests
Policemen throw demonstrator to the ground during a protest against Chile’s government in Santiago [Goran Tomasevic/Reuters] 

The human rights situation has compromised the honour of the nation, said Hertz, referring to one of the constitutional bases for impeachment. Should the accusation proceed from a commission of randomly selected legislators and eventually be passed by both levels of the bicameral congress, Pinera would be removed from office.

“It is not possible that this country continue with political impunity, moral impunity and social impunity, which has been a very important component in triggering social protests,” said Hertz.

In a statement Sunday night, Pinera acknowledged there were cases of abuses by security forces and instances when human rights were not respected.

“In some cases, protocols were not respected. There was excessive use of force. Abuses or crimes were committed,” he said, adding that the government is committed to investigating and prosecuting those cases.

Sebastian Pinera
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera addresses the nation in Santiago, on October 26, 2019 [Pedro Lopez / AFP]

Secondary student protests last month against a Santiago subway fare rise sparked nationwide mass protests that hit the month mark on Monday. Pinera deployed the military during a nine-day state of emergency in October, and police have been cracking down on protests throughout the crisis.

Calls for Pinera’s resignation were scrawled in graffiti on walls in cities around the country. Some protesters, social movements and opposition politicians have also been calling for the resignation of Police chief Mario Rozas.

Over the past month, human rights groups have repeatedly claimed that human rights violations have been systemic, not isolated incidents. Ruling and opposition politicians announced a “peace agreement” on Friday and a plan for a new constitution, but the police crackdown on demonstrators has continued.

At least 24 people have been killed amid the crisis, including five by military and police forces. The National Human Rights Institute has filed 384 legal actions against state entities, including 273 for alleged torture and other cruel treatment.

The institute has documented 2,391 people hospitalised for injuries, including 222 with severe eye injuries, roughly 75 percent of which were caused by projectiles fired by security forces. The institute has also visited 6,362 people detained in custody, including 759 minors.

“There’s a policy of terror,” said Juan Hun, 50, a consultant in Antofagasta, a city 1,400km (860 miles) north of the capital.

“The government is criminalising social movements, students, and residents,” he told Al Jazeera.

Chile Pinera
Protesters wheat paste and paint a depiction of president Sebastian Pinera on a wall in Antofagasta [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera]

Thousands of Chileans rallied on Monday to mark one month since protests began. In Antofagasta, police used tear gas and a water cannon on a march, but protesters regrouped. Police filled a downtown plaza with tear gas to disperse the crowd, and scattered protests, barricades, skirmishes and tear gas continued well into the night.

“This is going to continue,” Hun said of the ongoing protests. “There is a lot of outrage. There is a lot of inequality in this country.”

Source: Al Jazeera