The president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, has announced this Monday that he will accompany the Carabineros “personally in procedures” so that “it is clear the support that exists and where the authority is.” The president reported it from the La Moneda Palace, hours after meeting with the family of Sergeant Rita Olivares, shot to death by a group of criminals early Sunday morning in Quilpué, in the Valparaíso Region. The crime has caused public commotion: it is the second homicide of a police officer so far in March. The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate decided to suspend their district week, in which parliamentarians visit the areas for which they were elected, to devote themselves to moving forward with 15 security bills.
Accompanied by the general director of the Carabineros, Ricardo Yáñez, and his ministers of the Interior and Public Security, Carolina Tohá, and of Women and Gender Equality, Antonia Orellana, Boric pointed out: “Together with the Undersecretary of the Interior, Manuel Monsalve, and the Minister of the Interior, I will be accompanied by the Carabineros in procedures, so that it is clear the support that exists and where the authority is. It is the criminals who have to feel fear, not the institutions and even less the honest and hard-working citizens, who are the vast majority”.
The president’s decision, unprecedented for a Chilean president, occurs in a context of broad social demand for greater order. Citizens, for example, value controversial measures related to crime control. This is the case of the opposition mayor Rodolfo Carter, of La Florida, the fifth most populous municipality in Chile, who has begun a controversial demolition of houses associated with drug traffickers. According to the cadem survey, released yesterday, 82% of the people consulted agreed with its determination, while only 16% were against it. According to the same poll, the president has a 30% approval rating.
Minister Tohá then explained that “the president has been clear in the effort that the Government has made to reach agreements on security and in the willingness to advance legislatively in a statute that in many dimensions better protects the police.” The Secretary of State, however, added that “when a tragedy like that of Sergeant Olivares occurs, the government’s support for the police is put into discussion again.” For this reason, Tohá stressed, “the president has said here that if it is necessary (to make) additional gestures, of presence on the ground to reaffirm it, we are going to look for them and we are going to agree on it.” The minister clarified that the objective is to send a clear message of support to the police, “not to generate reckless or inappropriate situations.”
The murder of Olivares, the first woman from the Carabineros to die in an operation, occurs in a context where security is the main concern of citizens, according to the survey by the Center for Public Studies (CEP) last January. There is a new phenomenon of organized crime, which has caused homicides to register a 30% increase, as well as an increase in the circulation of weapons in the hands of criminal gangs.
Although it is not clear what it will mean to “personally” accompany the Carabineros in police proceedings, President Boric seems willing to see with his own eyes what is happening in terms of crime, to be where the acts of violence occur and to improve the Government’s management in the main concern of citizens, public safety. “That people live and feel safe seems to us an enabling right for the exercise of other freedoms,” the president wrote in an opinion column published this Monday in EL PAÍS.
Criticism from relatives
Sergeant Olivares was the mother of two children, ages 12 and 15. She was 43 years old and had been in the Carabineros for more than two decades. She was killed as soon as she arrived in her patrol car after the neighbors called and, according to the expert reports, the gang of assailants fired at least 30 shots. So far there are three detainees and one of them —Edward Fuenzalida, 28 years old— has a long record and had escaped in July 2021 from the Valparaíso prison. The second allegedly involved in the crime, Miguel Acevedo, had been released on provisional release seven months ago. He was driving a car on commission for theft, but He was released after posting bail. for about $990.
The third detainee is Luis Martínez, 27 years old. The man was one of the 1700 benefited from a general pardon of the Government of Sebastián Piñera in the midst of the covid-19 crisis, in April 2020. He had served two-thirds of his sentence for repeated robbery with violence.
This Monday, relatives of murdered police officers sent harsh messages to the current authorities. The brother of the police officer who died on Sunday, Raimundo Olivares, said that “the president has not done what he has to do. The violence is unleashed. The Government has given many facilities to crime.” And he added: “The carabinieri continue to suffer. They beat them, they go around with low caliber weapons while the criminals with submachine guns”. Today the relatives of Sergeant Carlos Retamal, a policeman who was killed by an iron strike on October 11, 2022 in San Antonio, a port city located about 100 kilometers from Santiago, while he was supervising a clandestine car race, also spoke out.
Retamal’s widow, Marly Victoriano, wrote a letter after learning of the sergeant’s crime in Quilpué. “A new victim has died of inaction and negligence in providing protection and necessary tools to the police officers,” she said. And she demanded that President Boric immediately discuss the so-called Retamal law, an initiative presented by the opposition that seeks to increase the penalties against those who commit crimes against the Chilean police forces.
The pardons granted at the end of 2022 by President Boric to a group of 13 convicted, 12 of them for crimes committed in the social outbreak of 2019, have made the conversations of the political class more complex to reach agreements on security. The president’s decision, which a few days ago was endorsed by the Constitutional Court, is still under debate. It was a delicate signal regarding La Moneda’s commitment against crime and, among other consequences, paralyzed Tohá’s negotiations with the opposition regarding a transversal public security agenda. Among those pardoned was Jordano Jesús Santander Riquelme, sentenced to seven years in prison and three sentences remitted after attacking a police station in San Antonio in March 2020, in the same Valparaíso Region where the sergeant was murdered. He was found guilty of the frustrated manslaughter of a police officer whom he tried to run over when the officer tried to stop him.
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