Santiago, Chile – Lorena Pizarro was 10 years old the last time she saw her father, Manuel Ulises Pizarro Molina.
In December 1976, three years into the 17-year military dictatorship of Chile‘s Augusto Pinochet, Pizarro Molina had gone out to run errands and meet with a friend in Santiago. But he and the friend were beaten and taken away in a vehicle by state agents.
Thousands of people were killed and forcibly disappeared during Pinochet’s rule. Pizarro Molina, an outspoken communist party member, was one of them. He was never seen again.
“As relatives, we still feel that anguish. And we are still searching,” Lorena Pizarro said.
Four decades later, Pizarro says she has never stopped searching for her father. And she is not the only one.
Carrying photographs of their disappeared relatives, members and supporters of the Association of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared marched on Friday through downtown Santiago to demand truth and justice, as they have done for the past 154 weeks. But in recent weeks, they have also been marching with thousands of others against government repression, including new measures announced on Thursday, amid an ongoing political crisis.
“We started marching to demand an end to impunity,” said Pizarro, who leads the association. “We also march to demand that history not be repeated.”
Pizarro said the current protests are inspiring, but seeing the military in the streets during the now-lifted state of emergency took many people back to the Pinochet years.
“For us, it was a revictimisation,” she said. “It was as though we were in a dictatorship.”
Chile erupted in protest three weeks ago, and mass demonstrations for a new constitution, higher wages, public health and education, and other collective demands show no sign of waning. President Sebastian Pinera has introduced a new “social agenda” purportedly addressing citizen demands, but measures have been deemed too little, too late.
At least 23 people have been killed during the crisis, including several by military and police forces, according to officials. Thousands of protesters have been detained and injured. There have also been spates of arson and looting, and damages surpass one billion dollars, according to the government.
President Pinera announced 10 initiatives on Thursday, all relating to security, as mass protests against the political and economic model continue. The new measures and the ongoing crackdown on protests by security forces have drawn criticism from rights groups.
“One of the principal responsibilities of the state is to safeguard public order and citizen security,” Pinera said at a news conference on Thursday, when he revealed the new security measures.
Pinera said three of the 10 initiatives include proposals he is sending to legislators that would impose stricter sentences for certain acts committed during “public disturbances”. Those acts include looting, barricades impeding traffic, and covering one’s face.
Pinera said his government will create a special team of prosecutors and police to improve “preventative intelligence” and “anticipate” criminal acts. He said he will also push for legislative approval of intelligence and police bill his government presented last year.
“We are convinced that this agenda represents and constitutes a significant and important contribution to improve our capacity to control and safeguard public order,” Pinera said.
Pizarro said she was outraged, but not surprised Pinera has responded to ongoing protests with measures that could ramp up police crackdowns and the criminalisation of protests.
“He does not know how to govern any other way,” she said.
UN human rights experts on Friday also expressed alarm over the government’s violent response to protesters.
“Violence can never be the answer to people’s social and political demands, the high number of wounded and the way in which non-lethal weapons have been used seems to indicate that use of force was excessive and violated the requirements of necessity and proportionality,” said the experts, appointed by the Human Rights Council.
For law student Roberto Arriagada, “The president is trying to put out the fire with fuel” with the new security measures.
Arriagada and other students carried signs on Friday with the names of the people killed during the state of emergency last month. Many of the student protesters were shirtless and covered in paint representing blood and bullet holes.
The student action joined the march led by the Association of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared and then continued their march, lining up and chanting at groups of police scattered throughout downtown Santiago.
From day one, law students at the university organised legal support for the detained and injured. But they also feel it is important to keep the cases of people killed present in the public eye, Arriagada said.
“The fundamental thing is that people do not fall into the charade that things have returned to normal,” he added.