Chile: Government seeks to criminalize verbal abuse of police officers

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Government seeks to criminalize verbal abuse of police officers; Chile marks Earth Hour; Chilean Senate elects new president; Bolivia to sue Chile for access to the sea1208709024_f

Government seeks to criminalize verbal abuse of police officers

This week the government of President Sebastián Piñera announced a controversial new plan to criminalize the verbal abuse of federal police officers, called carabineros in Chile. The measure has already provoked heated debates in Chile despite still being in the editing process. On Thursday President Piñera called for the ‘urgent’ passage of the measure.

Government spokeswoman Cecilia Pérez explained the purpose of the proposal, saying that the current law only criminalizes assaults on police officers that result in physical injuries.

Recent waves of student protests in Chile have seen some demonstrators shouting at, spitting at, or knocking the hats off of carabineros. The government and most right-leaning legislators feel the new measure would be an important guarantee of the safety and well-being of police officers.

Alberto Espina, a Senator from the centre-right National Renewal Party (Renovación Nacional—RN) told the press, ‘we would have to regulate it well to avoid excesses,’ but supports the measure.

Felipe Harboe, a member of the Chamber of Deputies representing the centre-left Party for Democracy (Partido por la Democracia—PPD) opposes the measure. Harboe warned that to criminalize and prosecute crimes of speech such as insults and threats of violence gets into complex, murky legal territory.

Harboe said that the government should prevent anti-carabinero acts rather than punishing them, suggesting more negotiations between the government and social movements. ‘That way we could avoid the situation in which the carabineros are the ham in the sandwich of the government and violent protesters,’ he added.

Chile marks Earth Hour

On Saturday the government turned out the lights at many of the country’s most iconic buildings to mark global Earth Hour, an initiative of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). WWF launched the Earth Hour project in 2007 as a reminder of the need to address climate change. Since then, more than 140 countries have participated.

The presidential palace, called La Moneda, and other prominent buildings in Santiago went dark early on Saturday night, while in the neighborhood of Ñuñoa residents could hop on stationary bicycles, generating energy to power nearby lights.

Chilean Senate elects new president

This week the Chilean Senate elected a new president. Jorge Pizarro, to lead the legislative body in 2013. Pizarro is a member of the Christian Democrat Party (Democrata Cristiana—DC). Serving as Vice-President of the Senate will be José Antonio Gómez, of the Social Democrat Radical Party (Partido Radical Social Democrata—PRSD).

In his first statement as President of the Senate, Pizarro said that the legislature needs to ‘recognize the transformations in our society,’ particularly those that have come at the behest of social movements. ‘We need to promote political dialogue and debate about the problems of the future,’ with the goal of ‘serving society, and above all the middle and vulnerable classes,’ Pizarro added.

Bolivia to sue Chile for access to the sea

On Saturday morning the Bolivian government announced plans to sue Chile for access to the Pacific Ocean at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Bolivia lost its access to the sea to Chile with the Treaty of 1904. President Piñera has said that Chile will defend itself, and that Bolivia freely entered into the 1904 Treaty and cannot now revise it. This week Bolivian Vice-President Álvaro García Linero told the press that Piñera ‘is lying’ about the 1904 Treaty. García Linero said that the treaty that formalized the end of the Chile-Bolivia hostilities during the War of the Pacific was imposed on Bolivia and could not have been freely accepted because ‘an invading army was at our doorstep.’

Bolivia’s announcement came after the Bolivian parliament approved an amendment repealing Bolivia’s reservation to the 1948 Pact of Bogotá. The Pact recognized the jurisdiction of the ICJ in territorial disputes. Bolivia’s now-defunct reservation prevented Bolivia from pursuing its claim on maritime territory at the ICJ.

Chilean politicians swiftly denounced Bolivia’s claims.

Laurence Golborne, presidential candidate of the Independent Democratic Union Party (Unión Democrata Independiente—UDI) made his position clear, telling the press that ‘our country has an untouchable territorial integrity that must be respected and defended.’

Andrés Allamand, former Defense Minister and also a presidential candidate from the right, echoed Golborne’s words, saying that Chile should make no concessions to Bolivia’s demand.

Peru has also sued Chile in the ICJ over territorial disputes. Chile and Peru are currently awaiting the Hague court’s verdict on a maritime border dispute that also dates from the end of the War of the Pacific.