SANTIAGO – Protesters rallied in front of Chile’s presidential palace Thursday to support people who have lost eyes to police shotgun pellets and tear gas canisters during mass demonstrations that have wracked the country.
Some of the dozens of demonstrators had bandages on their faces and told angry tales of being hit by face-level fire that they felt was intentional. “In Chile, asking for dignity costs you an eye,” one sign proclaimed.
At least 232 people have lost vision during five weeks of protest in Chile against deep inequality and calling for better social services and pensions. Of those, doctors say at least 50 people will need prosthetic eyes.
Protesters say security forces — mainly national police known as “Carabineros” — have stopped firing shotgun pellets at protesters but continue firing tear gas canisters.
Thursday’s demonstration came days after news emerged that a new victim, Fabiola Campillai, had lost sight in both eyes after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister while waiting at a bus stop to go to her night shift at work.
Marcelo Herrera, an environmental engineer with a white patch over his right eye, described how his eye was injured during a protest Nov. 4.
“The Carabineros were firing tear-gas bombs from about 100 meters away at a standing group and one landed on the knapsack of a friend,” Herrera told The Associated Press. “Another person was struck on the head and I went to confront the Carabineros.”
He said the others in the group turned and ran, and he was left alone facing the police. Just as he was deciding to leave before something happened, he was “hit in the eye by a pellet,” Herrera said.