Less than a month before Chile votes on whether to replace its Pinochet-era constitution, police have brutally repressed demonstrators in the capital, Santiago.
On Friday evening officers of the Carabineros police force used plumes of teargas and high-pressure water jets to disperse protesters congregating in Plaza Italia, where pockets of violence flared amid a heavy police presence.
Videos show a 16-year-old boy being bundled over the railings of a bridge by a police officer. The boy fell into the dirty concrete channel of the Mapocho river, where he lay motionless, face down in the shallow water.
“We managed to get two of our group down to assist him, and after stabilising his condition the fire brigade were able to lift him away from the river to be taken to hospital.”
Addressing the incident in a televised address, General Enrique Monrás, a spokesperson for the Carabineros, did not rule out the force’s responsibility for what had happened, but said that in his opinion, the boy “lost his balance and fell” during an arrest.
He said the force had its own set of videos that absolved it of blame, although he did not say what they showed.
The boy was said to be in a stable condition in the Santa María Clinic, a short distance from where the incident took place.
As images began to filter on to social media, the Carabineros faced renewed pressure to act on a perceived culture of brutality.
Opposition politicians called for General Mario Rozas, the head of the Carabineros, to resign following a string of alleged human rights violations.
Since October last year Chile has been rocked by a wave of mass protests against rampant inequality and a host of systemic injustices. The ensuing police crackdown has been condemned internationally.
Chile’s public prosecutor has said that since last October 8,575 alleged human rights violations have been perpetrated by the Carabineros in the repression of protests, and only 16 police agents have been stood down as a result.
A series of cabinet reshuffles have resulted in three men successively being put in charge of the interior ministry since the demonstrations began, yet the police have retained the support of the government in spite of the numerous allegations against them.
Several international missions, including a delegation sent by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile, delivered damning reports detailing numerous violations that have occurred during the protests, including alleged torture and sexual abuse.
Nonetheless, President Sebastián Piñera used his address before the UN general assembly less than two weeks ago to call for values such as respect for human rights to be strengthened around the world.
Chile’s constitutional referendum will be held on 25 October. In the wake of the latest scandal enveloping the Carabineros, calls went out on social media for further protests to be held over the weekend.