Less than a month before Chile’s vote on whether to replace its Pinochet-era constitution, police brutally cracked down on protesters in the capital, Santiago.
On Friday evening, officers from the Carabineros police force used plumes of tear gas and high pressure water jets to disperse protesters gathering in Plaza Italia, where pockets of violence erupted amid a strong police presence.
Videos show a 16-year-old boy swaddled on the railings of a bridge by a police officer. The boy fell into the dirty concrete channel of the Mapocho River, where he was motionless, face down in the shallow water.
“As the demonstrators fled, we saw the moment when the officer intercepted [the boy] and threw him off the bridge, ”said Pavel Pavelic Jofre, who led a company of volunteers during the protests.
“We managed to get two members of our group down to help him, and after stabilizing his condition, the firefighters were able to pull him away from the river to be taken to hospital.
Addressing the incident in a televised address, General Enrique Monrás, spokesman for the Carabineros, did not exclude the force’s responsibility for what had happened, but said that in his opinion the boy had “Lost balance and fell” during an arrest.
He said the force had its own series of videos which absorbed all blame, although he did not say what they showed.
The boy is said to be in stable condition at the Santa María clinic, a short distance from where the incident took place.
As images began to filter through social media, the Carabineros faced renewed pressure to act on a perceived culture of brutality.
Opposition politicians have called on General Mario Rozas, the leader of the Carabineros, to step down following a series of alleged human rights violations.
Since October last year, Chile has been rocked by a wave of mass protests against creeping inequality and a host of systemic injustices. The police crackdown that followed was condemned internationally.
The Chilean prosecutor said that since last October 8,575 alleged human rights violations have been committed by the riflemen as part of the crackdown on protests, and only 16 police officers have been dismissed from their posts.
A series of cabinet reshuffles have resulted in the successive appointment of three men to head the Interior Ministry since the protests began, but police have retained government support despite numerous allegations made against them.
Several international missions, including a delegation sent by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile, delivered damning reports detailing many of the violations that occurred during the protests, including allegations of torture and sexual abuse.
Nonetheless, President Sebastián Piñera used his speech to the UN General Assembly less than two weeks ago to call for strengthening values such as respect for human rights around the world.
Chile’s constitutional referendum will take place on October 25. Following the latest Carabineros scandal, calls have been made on social media for further protests to take place this weekend.