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15th Dec 2019

Leftist MEPs call on EU to address crisis in Chile

  • 'Given the trade agreement between Chile and the EU, we believe that the EU has an important role to play in this situation, said MEP Miguel Urbán (Photo: Diego Correa)

MEPs from the leftist group GUE/NGL, who recently travelled on an observation mission in Chile, on Wednesday (13 November) accused the European Union of turning a blind eye to human rights being violated in Chile - a trade partner of the EU.

Following the mobilisations that have been taking place in Chile since mid-October, and the refusal of the majority of MEPs to discuss this topic in the last plenary session of Strasbourg, the GUE/NGL group decided to send MEPs Miguel Urbán and Idoia Villanueva to Chile to take part in an observation mission.

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After weeks of demonstrations, sparked by a hike in public transport prices, "the magnitude of state repression" in Chile became similar to the times of dictator Augusto Pinochet, Urban said.

"Given the trade agreement between Chile and the EU, we believe that the EU has an important role to play in this situation," he added.

The EU-Chile agreement is subjected to the 'democracy clause', which calls for respect of fundamental human rights in the country - and a suspension clause in case of breach of the democracy clause.

Human rights violation

At least 20 people were reported killed, and more than 2,000 injured, since the protests began in October over rising transport costs and inequality.

"It is frightening that in the course of just a few days more than 20 people have lost their lives, including five thought to be at the hands of state agents," said Amnesty International.

United Nations human rights experts also condemned the excessive use of force by security forces in Chile during the recent weeks of protests.

"Violence can never be the answer to people's social and political demands," UN experts said in a statement last Friday.

As tensions escalated, a state of emergency was declared in several provinces of the country, where there are more than 5,620 people detained - including children and adolescents.

The situation in Chile confirms "a current trend of human rights violations in America Latina", said Villanueva, adding that their task as MEPs is to give visibility to this situation and to demand EU's action.

Last month, a total of 48 MEPs from GUE/NGL, the Greens and the Socialists - including Urbán and Villanueva - sent a letter to the EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini calling on the EU to comply with the democracy clause of the EU-Chile agreement to ensure that Chile respects fundamental rights.

"The European Union must urge president [Sebastian] Piñera to stop the curfew and repression and guarantee the right to demonstrate and speak out," said the vice-chair of the Greens, MEP Alice Kuhnke, who also signed the letter addressed to Mogherini.

"What Chile needs is political dialogue, not armed forces on the streets," she added.

Chile's international role

The Spanish MEPs, who participated in the observation mission to Chile, have also voiced their concerns about having the Chilean government leading the upcoming UN climate change conference (COP 25) in December.

"The presidency of a bloodstained government should not be maintained," said Urbán.

Last month, Chilean president Sebastian Piñera said that his country will not host the climate conference due to the violent protests.

As a result, the UN announced that Spain will host the climate summit in Madrid.

But, although the climate summit will be held in Madrid, the COP25 presidency is still led by the Chilean minister of environment Carolina Schmidt.

Chile has been often considered a democratic and economic success in Latin America, but there is a high level of inequality in the country.

Only one percent of Chile's population earns 33 percent of the country's wealth, making it the most unequal country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

This situation comes after "30 years of applying political measures that target inequality," said Villanueva.

A new constitution has been a central demand of protesters, to replace one dating back to Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990 after seizing power in a military coup.

Piñera proposed steps to draw up a new constitution on Sunday.

However, his plan has been criticised by the protesters, the opposition and even his political ranks.

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