A new crisis became the coup de grace for Mario Rozas, until this Thursday director of the Carabineros de Chile. The general’s departure occurs after an incident in a home for minors in the city of Talcahuano, 429 kilometers from Santiago, where police officers shot two young men aged 16 and 14. The episode, still under investigation, triggered the departure of Rozas, whose tenure in office had been untenable for months, amid reports of serious human rights violations by organizations such as Human Rights Watch.
The general’s image was surrounded by accusations of police abuse and excessive use of force during social demonstrations that broke out in October last year. Until March of this year, 493 complaints related to various crimes committed by police officers were registered, of which 444 belonged to the Carabineros. Within this scenario are the 343 cases of ocular trauma caused by the use of anti-riot shotguns, which led the institution to modify its protocols and the Government to create a unit specially dedicated to providing care to people who lost their vision during the protests.
Rozas’ defiant attitude and his unconditional support for his troops – he denied human rights violations and even said that no official would be discharged in the context of the social outbreak – became an increasingly turbulent river. At the beginning of October, in the run-up to the first anniversary of the “social outbreak”, the general faced a serious episode after a 16-year-old was injured when he fell to the bed of the Mapocho river, the main one in the capital, when he was attacked by a member of the Special Forces, the unit with which the Carabineros faces the protests. At first, the police “flatly” denied that an official had pushed the minor, at the same time that the images of the incident circulated on social networks and contradicted the official version. Hours later, the agents would speak of an “accident”, which was later ruled out by the investigation of the Prosecutor’s Office, which formalized the official for attempted homicide.
Rozas also faced criticism for authorizing a name change to a uniformed training academy in honor of the former director of the Carabineros, Rodolfo Stange. The act was described as a “provocation” by human rights groups, who recalled that the former general was accused of non-compliance with military duties and obstruction of justice in the so-called Degollados case, where three Communist Party militants were kidnapped and later killed by police officers.
Although the circumstances of the assault at the orphanage on Wednesday are a matter for investigation, so far it is known that the incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon after the presence of police officers was requested to address the case of a minor who had decompensated. According to the police institution, upon arriving at the scene a group of minors began to attack them with stones, which led Sergeant John Mograve to fire three shots with his nine-millimeter weapon. The injured are hospitalized and one of them underwent surgery, but is out of life risk.
In this way, what happened with the minors in Talcahuano set up a scenario where, this time, it was no longer possible to keep Rozas in office. The first signs were given during the afternoon of Wednesday, where President Sebastián Piñera canceled his participation in an activity with the police chief. As explained from La Moneda, the president was “focused” on clarifying the truth “in a complete and timely manner”, for which he summoned his Ministers of Interior and Justice, in addition to the Ombudsman for Children, Patricia Muñoz, who leads an autonomous body in charge of ensuring guarantees for minors and that announced a complaint against those responsible for the incident.
The meetings continued until the morning of this Thursday, when Piñera formalized the departure of Rozas and the appointment of Ricardo Yáñez as his successor. Despite all the accusations, the president expressed his “admiration and gratitude” for the outgoing general, who served as the head of state’s personal escort during his first term.
Piñera also regretted what happened in Talcahuano, referring to the minors as “injured”, which generated harsh criticism from opposition parliamentarians. “They are not injured children, they are violated children. Speeches like these continue to favor impunity ”, the communist deputy Carmen Hertz, an emblematic lawyer in human rights cases, confronted him.
Both the government and the opposition have argued that Rozas’ departure should be an opportunity to modernize the institution, whose credibility has plummeted in recent years, as a result of a string of scandals, which have included fraud for more than 31,000 million euros, the falsification of evidence to arrest community members of the Mapuche community and what happened during the social protests.
Adolfo González, researcher at the Center for Citizen Security Studies of the Institute of Public Affairs of the University of Chile, points out that although the departure of General Rozas is not enough to ensure a reform of the institution, “his permanence would have been a political signal in a sense opposite to that of a process of democratization and institutional change ”. The academic states that “in order to carry out a police reform that addresses the fundamental problems of the uniformed police – practices of corruption and violation of human rights, as he points out – the urgent definition of an agenda that sets the roadmap for changes is required. structural ”.
And in this, he assures, the process that Chile will initiate to draft a new Constitution will be key. “It is a historic opportunity to redefine the character of the Carabineros, that it ceases to be a force destined to safeguard public order and an anachronistic military character, and that it be redefined as a police force destined to protect citizens in the exercise of their rights. , typical of a Democratic State ”.