Chile and the Right to Live in a Violence-Free Environment

Safety is also a right.

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – If there’s one specific issue that has been historically used by more conservative groups, both in Chile and in other countries in the region, to get closer to the population and gain visibility in mass media, it’s the lack of security that these people live with every day.

While Latin America and the Carribean having the highest crime rates in the world – with Chile in the 34th place, out of a list of 142 countries (1) – isn’t news for anyone that has studied the subject, the instrumental use conservative groups have made of this phenomenon, has not only worsened people’s understanding, but the punitive measures they’ve established as a solution haven’t had any real impact either.

In fact, it’s been the exact opposite, the war against crime, drug-trafficking and organized crime, has been a complete failure in Chile and the entire region, precisely because it is being treated as a war, and not as the consequence of a society that is seriously fragmented, putting Latin America and the Caribbean up at the top of regions with the greatest inequality on the planet (2).

What I’m trying to say with this is that you can’t do anything about insecurity, without understanding once and for all, that it is a structural problem in the region, and that nothing will ever be resolved with more jail population, that stems from more police, harsher laws for criminals and greater access to arms for civil society to defend itself.

Failure to understand this will only accentuate the failure of this already failed security model that has already been allocated millions of dollars, covering up national security backdrop of militarized States seeing criminals as enemies of the state that need to be persecuted and sent to jail.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the 1980 Chilean Constitution always associates security with public order, because it isn’t trying to promote safer environments for citizens in their neighborhoods, but to give the State the tools it needs to repress any kind of movement that goes against their interests of an extreme economic model imposed by the dictatorship, and made worse under a democracy.

Meanwhile, conservative groups pushing for the Chilean people’s rejection of the new draft Constitution, point out that it doesn’t say anything abour crime, as they see it as a one dimensional issue, as if it were only a matter of fighting an enemy of the state, and not people’s safety, which proves that they are only really concerned about upholding the status quo of neoliberal Chile.

This is why conservative sectors are shocked when the new constitution proproses to demilitarize the police, as they want institutions like Chile’s cops to continue to act independently, without transparency and anti-democratically, not at the service of communities, citizens and subordinated to civil power, like they should have always been.

To address this, the new draft Constitution focuses on people’s safety and not on the war against a particular group, unlike the dictatorship’s Constitution that still governs us today. There is a specific law in the document about people’s right to live in safe and violence-free environments, in every form.

In other words, they are looking to reduce violence in different areas, from violence against women, against LGBTIQ groups, against children and teenagers, and any victim who suffers a violation of their rights or individual freedom, going much further than illegal activity as such.

It obviously keeps in the following about crime: “actions of prevention, persecution, and sanction of crimes, as well as social reintegration of convicted persons, will be developed by public institutions as stipulated by this Constitution and the law, in a coordinated effort and with unlimited respect for human rights (3).”

As a result, it’s a comprehensive document, focusing on people’s safety, but always respecting basic rights, not giving a rise to any kind of penal populism, which is supported by a National Policy of Public Security, which also forms part of the draft Constitution, which will allow them to plan different policies and programs more seriously, responsibly, professionally or with proof, going beyond governments of the hour.

In summary, this new Constitution also deals with and explicitly takes on an issue that has been used in presidential campaigns and politically dominated by Chile’s most conservative sectors, like security, but this time they are doing it from a systemic point of view, without falling into warlike discourse, that has only perpetuated the problem. 

Read more from Chile here on Havana Times.