|Kent Spriggs, U.S. Human Rights Observer in Aysen|
Kent Spriggs was part of the SOAW delegation to Chile. He is a human rights lawyer who has represented detainees at Guantanamo for five years which entailed a visit to Afghanistan and is representing SOAW in the suit seeking release of the names of SOA attendees which have been withheld for the past seven years.
One of the delegation meetings was with the Human Rights Observers in Santiago which monitors the massive number of arrests which take place during demonstrations in the capital. One of the observers is a liaison with the Aysen region 1000 miles south in Patagonia. She said the conditions there were dire and that international observers would be useful.
Kent agreed to go. The visit was made much more workable by his being accompanied by Dr. Jose Venturelli, a Chilean national whose permanent home is now in Canada.
The people of the region had several months ago formulated a list of 11 needs for the economic well-being of the region. The national government refused to negotiate with the elected leaders of Aysen who were unanimous in the need for the reforms.
Kent and Jose flew to Patagonia and traveled to Puerto Aysen. They listened to the testimony of persons who had been targeted and those who were local observers in the town.
The entire community had come together to block supplies from the port reaching the region attempting to force negotiations. They blocked off the bridge which is the only link to from the port to the region. They also blocked the only paved road into the Puerto Aysen from the rest of the region. The only way in was a dirt road partially blocked and heavily guarded. Only friends of the town were allowed to enter.
The response of the national government was to send 500 special forces (riot police) from the capital and then reinforcements of 400 more.
Remarkably the special forces were unable to retake the bridge. They brought with them water cannons, skunks (which spray a noxious liquid), tear gas, and shotguns. At first they shot rubber bullets with the shotguns, but then escalated to metal (birdshot and sometimes bigger). At first the tear gas canisters were used in the prescribed method fired at a 40 degree angle to disburse the gas but later were fired directly at people and windows as projectiles.
No one in the town used any weapon other than rocks.
There were confrontations in which hundreds of townspeople repeatedly drove the police away from the commercial bridge and across the wooden bridge in the north of town which lead to where they were housed.
The police repulsed started indiscriminately firing shotguns and teargas into people's houses. They attack observers clearly identified as non-combatants. They attacked those who sought to film them.
Four townspeople lost an eye. Kent and Jose visited some injured persons in the regional hospital in Coyhaique. One had a broken clavicle, the product of repeated severe beating and kicking as he lay on the ground. For him the slightest movement was excruciatingly painful. Several others with severe injuries were taken to Santiago for more sophisticated medical attention. Most of the injuries were memorialized with photographs.
As the effort to take the bridge was abandoned, the riot police would come at dusk and in the night and attack homes indiscriminately. In response the community cut down the wooden bridge to the north so the water cannons and other large vehicles could not enter the town, but the attacks by the police continued on foot.
Throughout the town houses posted black flags indicating that someone in the household had been injured. Many house tacked up plywood to cover broken windows or defend against possible future attacks.
The townspeople said that the children were afraid each night as the sun set knowing that some houses would be raided indiscriminately. Essentially, all the children had PTSD.
As the two observers left the town at dark, they visited the blockaded paved road. There were 10 or so persons around a fire cooking tea and chatting, standing guard. At some point during the night they would be replaced by another shift. The extraordinary solidarity within the community had become routine.
Kent was asked in several media interviews what his "takeaways" were from the visit. He said there were two.
Second, the uniform lawlessness and brutality of the riot police bespoke anarchy, rather than governance. It was if they were a harsh occupying force in a foreign land - but this was their country.
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