Chile’s US-Backed Gov’t Shooting Anti-Austerity Protesters, Blinding & Maiming by the Thousands

With the U.S. and OAS looking the other way, protesters have been subjected to brutally violent repression, Ben Norton reports.

By Ben Norton
The Grayzone

While the U.S. government, international NGOs, and corporate media outlets have relentlessly demonized the elected governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua, the Washington-backed right-wing administration in Chile has been violent cracking down on an uprising against neoliberal policies, and with virtual impunity.

In October 2019, protests erupted across Chile against the government of President Sebastián Piñera, a billionaire oligarch who has defended the former military dictator Augusto Pinochet while cutting social spending and pushing further privatization in a country where water is already privatized.

Soon after the demonstrations broke out, Piñera proclaimed, “We are at war!” The president’s language evoked horrifying memories for many Chileans who lived through the state terror of the Pinochet dictatorship, and for the families of those killed by it.

The United States and allied institutions like the Organization of American States (OAS) have long praised Chile as a shining example of democracy in South America. But the country is still bound to a constitution written during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Protesters have demanded a new constitution, and a plebiscite in April could change that, if it is not delayed by the Piñera administration.

A poll in January found that Piñera’s approval rating had plummeted to a record low of just 6 percent, with a whopping disapproval rating of 82 percent. (Compare this to a recent study that found that 63.5 percent of Nicaraguans will vote for the ruling Sandinista Front.)

But the almost universal opposition to Piñera and his right-wing policies has done nothing to stop the U.S. government and OAS from throwing their full weight of support behind his administration.

With full-throated backing from Washington, the billionaire president appears to have all the support he needs to continue his campaign of repression.

State-Backed Bloodshed

A Feb. 18 report (PDF) by Chile’s National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) illustrates the shocking scope of the Piñera government’s repression.

The institute was created by Chile’s legislature with a leadership council appointed by various government figures, including the president himself, the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and public universities.

Though the INDH is a state-backed institution, it has endured aggressive intimidation by Chile’s national police forces, known as the carabineros.

State security forces have at least 14 times threatened members of INDH, according to the group’s report. The carabineros have also shot tear gas at the bodies of INDH observers, wounding three with pellets, and preventing them from accessing detainees.

INDH’s report accuses the Piñera administration of carrying out the following grave abuses:

  • arbitrary detentions of people who were peacefully demonstrating
  • excessive use of force
  • aiming at the bodies of protesters and shooting gases at them
  • shooting pellets at the body, neck, and face of protesters
  • use of tear gas on children and pregnant women
  • detention of journalists
  • deploying undercover police and military forces who did not identify themselves

INDH documented security forces’ detention of 10,365 Chileans in just four months of protests, from Oct. 17, 2019 to Feb. 18, 2020. That is an average of around 86 detentions per day for 120 days.

The state violence has been extreme. Videos circulating on social media have shown some protesters being run over by armored vehicles.

In a conservative estimate, INDH documented 3,765 protest-related wounds in the past four months. Some 282 children were among the injured.

Researchers from the human rights body visited 67 hospitals and health centers to calculate figure. Because the researchers only counted wounded protesters whose cases were reported by medical institutions, it likely is an underestimate of the actual number.

The report itself notes, “It is important to highlight that this figure does not represent all the people wounded in this social crisis, rather it only reflects cases observed and confirmed by the INDH.”

The majority of the wounded protesters, 2,122 people, or approximately 56 percent, were shot by the state security forces. Of those, 51 were shot with live bullets, 190 by large metal balls, and 1,681 by small metal pellets. (The munitions used in the other 200 shootings were not identified.)

Another 271 protesters were hospitalized from tear gas injuries.

The source of injuries of Chilean protesters, according to hospital cases documented by the National Institute of Human Rights.

Shooting Hundreds in the Eyes

Eye wounds are among the most persistent injury suffered by protesters in Chile.

Chile’s carabineros, or national police, have relied on riot shotguns that are banned in much of the world as a form of crowd control, shooting protesters with clusters of pellets that explode into tiny pieces of shrapnel, causing grave eye wounds.

The National Institute of Human Rights documented 445 cases of protesters suffering from eye wounds in the past four months. Many activists have lost partial or even complete vision in one or both eyes.

In 25 extreme cases, protesters’ eye or eyes completely burst. And in nine cases, protesters lost an eye completely; it was removed from their head.

“As the National Institute of Human Rights we are concerned,” the body said, “that we continue receiving complaints and observing the existence of eye injuries, regarding people who were exercising their right to peacefully protest.”

These eye wounds have become a symbol of the protest movement in Chile, used in signs, flyers, and memes.

Mon Laferte, a prominent Chilean musician who supports the demonstrations, circulated the following cartoon depicting a blind activist telling Piñera, “We’re very sorry that you can’t see anything, President.”

Numerous journalists reporting on the protests in Chile have suffered from eye injuries and even permanently lost vision in own or both eyes.

Chilean photojournalist Nicole Kramm was walking with some friends after dinner when she was shot in the eye by the police.

Kramm suffered from severe eye trauma, and says she now sees a hazy black cloud in her left eye. She called it “something totally criminal and painful.”

“How long will these crimes against humanity go on?” she asked. “Yesterday I was the one frightened by the police brutality as I was interviewing people who lost vision, today unfortunately it’s my turn.”

Nicole Kramm’s eye wound. (Nicole Kramm, Instagram)

The Chilean photojournalist was also injured and nearly killed when U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition members nearly ran her over with an armored troop transport vehicle during the Trump administration’s attempt to invade Venezuela with “humanitarian aid” on the Colombian border in February 2019.

Amidst the state repression of anti-austerity protests, far-right forces in Chile are mobilizing. A network of extreme-right Pinochet supporters operating out of Chile’s wealthy neighborhoods was recently exposed for trafficking heavy weapons, including assault rifles.

Staunch Support from US & OAS

In response to the ongoing state repression, 1312 legal cases have been filed in Chile’s justice system.

But with Piñera government firmly in power, with powerful allies abroad, justice remains elusive.

When Piñera was forced in October to cancel international conferences that were to be held in Chile, U.S. Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that he understood the decision.

“We applaud the leadership Chile has shown,” Pompeo said, “and are committed to advancing our shared goals.”

Pompeo made this comment two weeks into the protests in Chile, while the right-wing government was wounding and detaining thousands of protesters. Throughout the violence, the U.S, secretary of state kept quiet.

The U.S. embassy in Chile has also maintained total radio silence on the Piñera government’s violence against unarmed civilians. Apparently, the embassy is too busy posting indignant statements condemning Venezuela and reaffirming support for Trump’s coup puppet Juan Guaidó to concern itself with the repression taking place right outside its gates.

Similarly, the Organization of American States (OAS) and its Secretary-General Luis Almagro, a staunch defender of U.S. military intervention in South America, have whitewashed Piñera’s repressive right-wing administration in Chile, while vigorously lobbying for the overthrow of the democratically elected governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Almagro praised Piñera in January, hailing “his work to preserve the public order in the framework of a state of law and democracy, and measures to guarantee human rights and the social agenda.”

At no point did Almagro offer a word of criticism. Instead, he effused, “Chile is an invaluable partner for work in defending international democratic institutions, human rights, development, and security.

As the U.S. and OAS turn a blind eye to the rampage of Piñera’s carabineros, Chileans are losing their own by the hundreds.

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a reporter for The Grayzone, and the producer of the “Moderate Rebelspodcast, which he co-hosts with Max Blumenthal. His website is, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.

This article is from The Grayzone.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

Before commenting please read Robert Parry’s Comment Policy. Allegations unsupported by facts, gross or misleading factual errors and ad hominem attacks, and abusive or rude language toward other commenters or our writers will not be published.  If your comment does not immediately appear, please be patient as it is manually reviewed. For security reasons, please refrain from inserting links in your comments, which should not be longer than 300 words.

17 comments for “Chile’s US-Backed Gov’t Shooting Anti-Austerity Protesters, Blinding & Maiming by the Thousands

  1. William F Crowl
    March 4, 2020 at 22:30

    The grandchildren of the martyrs of Pinochet. are rising up again; and we the grandfathers in the US who survived the Viet Nam War are looking on with a terrible sense of deja vue. The best outcome would be a peaceful revolution in the USA that will create a better Democracy and Republic than was envisioned in 1776. If WE CAN KEEP IT.

  2. Sesuj
    March 3, 2020 at 04:06

    One+ question – who and from where are these psycho police recruited, how are they rewarded, and where do they shop and live?

  3. bardamu
    March 2, 2020 at 15:20

    Refinements of government violence against nonviolent protesters strongly suggests protest by other forms of direct action. This might be a matter for close consideration for people in the States, since we may be rolling into a new era christened by a likely clear theft of the Democratic nomination.

    A bit of thought before the fact might help some direction of the action.

    • OlyaPola
      March 3, 2020 at 11:53

      “Refinements of government violence against nonviolent protesters strongly suggests protest by other forms of direct action.”

      Protest, whether non-violent or by other forms of direct action, still remains within the opponents’ framing of agency, given that the protestors remain supplicants therby enhancing the agency of their opponents.

      Re-enforcing the opponents’ expectations that others remain supplicants has utility in facilitating/implementing lateral strategies in parallel through the portal – What is the United States of America and how is it facilitated ? – the “United States of America” a misrepresentation referring to specific types of social relations reproduced in many “geographical areas”.

      Pre-1973 in Chile sections of the Socialist Party and MIR unsucessfully attempted to build paralell networks without sufficient understanding of the benefits of deception thereby being complicit in facilitating their opponents’ temporary “eradication of the problem” from 1972 until the late 1980’s, primarily of the working-class; members of other classes tending to have greater facility in not being disappeared.

      The context in Chile and elsewhere has changed since September 11th 1973 but residues still remain in some aspects of a similar level of naivete in formulating/implementing/monitoring/modulating lateral strategies of transcendence, including but not restricted to an over-reliance on mantras such as un pueblo unido led by Victor Jara impersonators, and lack of preparation akin to Mr. Guevara not limited to forgetting his medicine before venturing in Bolivia.

  4. Hide Behind
    March 2, 2020 at 13:29

    The conflicts, war time conditions, in nations are now more prevalent than during WW II, and the production of war time equipment grows yearly.
    The massive differentials of gains between holdings of the haves compared to those of the have nots is one of the consequences;and it is not relegated to dictatorial regimes of third worl, but in those more affluent more stable Eurocentric derived nations.
    No abusive nations leadership can exist without the support of those Eurocentrics’ military and financial interest, none.
    Do the monthly or even yearly tragedies by Chiles elites upon the majority of citizens in Chile come even close to that caused by US, NATO and Israel in any single day in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan or the now ongoing combat by Eurocentrics military in i8 African nations.
    An old saw comes to mind from back when Christianity was realy Christian, the one of : complaing about the sliver in another’s eye when you got a board in your own.

  5. March 2, 2020 at 11:20

    To the courageous protesters and journalists, thank you for informing us here in the US of our government’s
    complicity in such brutality in your country. Sooner or later, such repressive brutality by our government will come to our streets as the powerful right wing is destroying our democratic institutions.

    • Sesuj
      March 3, 2020 at 04:21

      Ditto. Freedom to speak & protest is SACRED. Persons in positions of power & authority who are supposed to protect that sacred right and fail to do so should be removed from office, barred henceforth, and denied the right to vote. Those same who also actively oppose that right should be immediately stripped of position, forfeit all worldly possessions, and run out of town.

  6. Sally Snyder
    March 2, 2020 at 09:58

    Here is an interesting look at a recent visit to Latin America by Sergey Lavrov and what he accomplished:


    Russia is, indeed, playing in America’s backyard, an issue that must be causing great consternation in Washington which has taken an anti-Russia at all costs approach to the world of today.

    • Sesuj
      March 3, 2020 at 04:12

      I get your drift and for those who dont; 1, russia aint “playin” and 2, it aint “america’s” – aka WDC’s – back yard.

  7. March 2, 2020 at 09:12

    When did you last see this on the BBC, CNN or ITV? How would they get the air-time between their attacks on Venezuela and Nicaragua and the spreading of “freedom and democracy” – US style?

    • Maria S Calef
      March 2, 2020 at 12:23

      Good article and straightforward. USA government has put in place dictatorship in Chile a Pinochet, supporting Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua, Marcos Perez Jimenez in Venezuela, and more. It is the USA trajectory of foreign policies in L. Am.

  8. Brian Eggar
    March 2, 2020 at 09:02

    You do hope that at sometime in the future that all these people like Pinera get carted off the the Hague to face charges of war crimes and that going down through the ranks all those involved get locked up for a very long time.

    Democracy by its very name is a government working for and representing the people and not a feudal society of a few elite overseeing a slave society.

    Will America change its ways when faced with its own domestic civil unrest or will it crack down with equal ferocity?

  9. Northern Observer
    March 2, 2020 at 08:44

    I condemn the left wing leadership in Chile that has thrown students, workers and other innocents into an unlimited insurrection against the Government. The red leaders have put people in a situation where they will be martyred needlessly. The protest actions must be called off and a commitment to electoral politics must be reaffirmed if we are to avoid further loss of innocent life. The world is watching the left in Chile, who are you and what are your values? Are you mercenary like your ancestors or humane as your flowery words promised? The World is Watching.

    • Piotr Berman
      March 2, 2020 at 14:20

      Absolutalmente! A responsible political leader calls for demonstration only if he/she can secure the support of armed thugs, preferably including police. Viva Bolivia for giving the example.

    • Casimir Ioulianov
      March 3, 2020 at 09:26

      Yeah, surely the opposition leaders have send themselves border-lines weapons as order maintaining tools for the police to use without any legal advice and no limitations on legitimates level of violence usable by the cops… they need martyrs. They need humans shields to imposes their radicals views on the society , they need shock images to catalyze unhappiness. They need the bloods and the tears of your starving children … but they need it far more less as the power in place need the protester to fear for their physical integrity when facing the cops protesting.
      So do not reverse responsibility : when a government does shit THEN people protest. The people didn’t protest for the pleasure of it, most of them prefer living a dull life than facing riot-police and lethal violence. Sometimes knowingly of the risks as the Yellow Vest did and still does today in France. This didn’t deserve hate : it deserve respect.

      At the end of it , it’s Macron and Castaner fault. They gave the world the worst possible example. “If the birthplace of the rights of man do it, it can’t be a problem” is still a thing for some in 2020. Unfortunately , not all people are blinds… and more and more are one-eyed each day.

  10. March 2, 2020 at 08:28

    Same story – different country. When are Americans going to wake the hell up?

    • Anonymot
      March 2, 2020 at 11:00

      I know yours is a cry of protest, but let’s look closer and further.

      Presidents are just ordinary people in a special category. They don’t know everything before or after their election (look at the inexperienced, unaccomplished mayors hauled in this year!) Therefore they have to rely on advice from those who are “xperts” in foreign information.

      In 1947, President Truman created the CIA, but reluctantly. So the longest lasting whisperers into presidential year are of that agency. The State Dept. used to add a bit, but by our entry to this century they were overrun by the Cia and by 2008 so was the FBI. So we have over 70 years of increasing control over foreign policy from our main source of information.

      So what’s a President to do; tell them to muck off? So based on often false, often politicized information, Presidents nod their head and the CIA activates some war or other, somewhere or other which they then proceed to lose. Worse yet, is their theory that fascist governments are more stable and easier to do “business” with. It’s easier to deal drugs so long as the friendly dictator gets a cut.

      That there should be some incidental fallout as here described is minor compared to our bloody replacements of once installed CIA regimes like Kaddafi, Saddam, or in Nicaragua, Peru, The whole Middle East, etc., etc., the list is 70+ years long.

      Much as I detest Trump, for his own perverse reasons, he’s trying to diminish the intelligence monsters that really run our country.

      For the wrong reasons, he’s right, because the few honest democratic people in power, both Democrats and Republicans, got there only to discover they were powerless to fight the bulldozer. The CIA deals in blackmail and they know where everyone’s skeletons are buried. Thank J Edgar Hoover for that. The last persons to try their non-conformist honesty were the Kennedy brothers. Everyone interested in political power got the CIA message from that and haven’t forgotten it since.

      And thus we are blinding Chileans, torturing millions, creating millions of refugees who are destroying Europe, and on and on. And nothing can be done about it unless Trump succeeds – and then, we too, have a neofascist dictator for years and years to come!

Comments are closed.