Oscar Pérez’s picture became known worldwide. He was rammed and crushed between two police vehicles leaving him with serious injuries while at an “unauthorized” demonstration in Plaza Italia, baptized as Plaza Dignidad (Dignity Square) by the social movement in since October 18th. A deployment of more than a thousand police officers took place to prevent this demonstration. The Governor of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, Mr. Felipe Guevara, stated that “we have not authorized a demonstration in that place, and therefore it is not appropriate that one would take place”.

This is the most clear expression of the type of regime we are presently living under, of absolute illegality and violence. The Governor, with an unquestionable level of ignorance, stated that in Chile there can only be authorized demonstrations. The truth however, is that the 1980 Constitution, in the Magna Carta of 1925, ensures that people have the right to assemble peacefully and without weapons, without prior permission. The right to assembly is specifically defined as the right to assemble without weapons and without prior permission.

Some argue that the right to assembly collides with people’s freedom to circulate. Yet, this is not the case. Both rights have been separated since at least 150 years. There is a right to assemble without prior permission. What happens is that when you occupy the street and you move through different arteries, some level of regulation has to be established. Municipalities have a duty to regulate the use of public space. But no regulation is superior to the constitutional right to assemble without prior permission. Then, Governor Felipe Guevara made an absolutely illegal and unconstitutional political decision that should lead to his forced resignation, given that he acted outside the framework of the Law and the 1980 Constitution. His order to prevent the demonstration in Plaza Dignidad at all costs is a flagrant unconstitutional act, which sanctions the Seventh article of the aforementioned Pinochet Constitution. Thus, his decision to prevent the demonstration was an inductive criminal act.

Human Rights organizations argue that the direct perpetrators and police officers in charge of the operation must be dismissed and penalized. They are right to make this demand. However, in our opinion the Governor of Santiago, who gave an unconstitutional and illegal order that there could not be a demonstration, has direct political responsibility.

What is the origin of the misunderstanding regarding the requirement of previous authorization for a demonstration? It is important to note that a state of constitutional exception allows the restriction of the right to assembly and thus to prohibit demonstrations. During the entire dictatorship period we lived in a permanent state of exception: state of war, state of siege, state of danger of disturbance of peace, established by the transitory provision number 24. Throughout the dictatorship years we became used to request permission to demonstrate, which only applies when there is an exceptional state. The Governor seems to be stuck in the dictatorship era. Under a normal state, the right to assemble without prior permission prevails and thus the Governor has the political responsibility to have illegally and unconstitutionally prevented it. We must demand that he is held accountable, especially considering the extreme and systematically orchestrated violence directed against the population. Pellets, tear gas and water launchers, that are using contaminated water with added chemicals, are being used with the purpose of causing further harm to the population because of their mere act of demonstrating. International reports that condemn the Chilean government are well known. When these made reference to the fact that the protest control policies are intended to inflict harm on the population, this upset the authorities. Today, we clearly see that these repressive policies have precisely that objective, giving them a clear authoritarian profile.

Hiram Villagra Castro, Human Rights lawyer, CODEPU board member.

December 21, 2019.