460 people have been seriously injured in their eyes, 34 of whom suffered total loss due to the indiscriminate use of pellets and tear gas bombs by the Carabineros special forces. The Carabineros fired their rubber bullets and tear gas guns directly into the faces of the protesters during the Chilean social outbreak between late 2019 and early 2020. This figure has made Chile the country with the world record for eye mutilation by state and security forces.
The Chilean rebellion began on October 18th, 2019. The trigger was a 4.1% increase in the subway fare ($30 CLP = $0.039 USD). This provoked massive evasions from the subway, at first by high school students, but later generalized and spread throughout the country. This discontent led to one of the largest social uprisings in recent decades: on October 25th, the most massive protest on record since the end of the Augusto Pinochet´s dictatorship took place, after than more than a million people took to the streets to demand social changes.
The demands are diverse and are still active: change in the pension system, increase of the minimum wage, better public health, a new Constitution and the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera. In response to the protests, the president declared a State of Emergency during the first days of the rebellion, which led to the suspension of basic freedoms, including free movement. Curfews were imposed for the first time since the dictatorship and the strong police repression on the protestors has been historical.
By early March 2020, around 3,838 people had been injured and according to the Chilean Society of Ophthalmologists and human rights organizations, 460 of them ended up with serious eye complications, loss of the eyeball, and also loss of sight. This figure has made Chile a world record for eye mutilation, due to the indiscriminate use of pellets and tear gas bombs by special forces of the Carabineros, who have shot their weapons directly into the faces of the protesters.
Carlos Puebla (46)
“I look at the mirror and I look at my new self now, and I say “I am mutilated.” I hope with the prosthesis I can return to be a normal person again, so when I look at the mirror or when I talk to somebody, I can feel like a normal person. Although I will not see them with my right eye, they are going to look at me and see me as a normal person.”
Natalia Aravena (25)
“In the moment I lost my eye, I lost something very important to me, because it was a part of me that I always liked. Many times, in my life people have told me that something they really liked about me were my eyes. They said I had a deep stare, big eyes, almonds shaped eyes. They have named different characteristics of my eyes, and I’ve always liked them. In my right eye I had a beauty mark, and it was unique because nobody had a beauty mark in their eyes, but I did.”
José Soto (23)
“I used to like sketching a lot, but now when I’m drawing and hold the pen, I don’t have the depth I need to draw and that makes me feel angry because I am not the person I used to be. Or if I wanted to touch somebody, I missed them, so I had to get closer or when I am walking I run into people on my right side simply because I can’t see well. It tires me to turn my head and neck to try to see who is coming by and not to run into them. This is what frustrates and upsets me the most.”
Camilo Gálvez (24)
“I lost an eye not because I had an accident, but because somebody shot me on purpose to mutilate me, and that is pretty hard. To think and reflect about this is very abysmal, it generates a lot of fear. When they shoot our eyes one becomes marked, it is their way of marking us, and leaves us with a psychological trauma beyond the physical mutilation.”
Source: Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the Universidad de Chile (Nov. 2019), Eye Magazine (Nature) and University of Chile.
Nahuel Herane (17)
“I don’t know if I have any after-effects, I have not been deprived of anything. I still have one eye, I can do everything, I have my two arms and legs and I have one eye. So, I can still do everything and perhaps the consequences are to live trying to get accustomed to the lack of visual field. it is what my uncle and the doctors said. We have less visual field and less three-dimensional view, but nothing else than that. It does not affect me very much, it is just one eye less.”
Daniel Acevedo (34)
“It is like when you pop a fried egg, that is how my eye popped and I lost it completely. Nobody wanted to tell me that I had lost my eye, but I knew it, and I said “I lost it, I lost it.” I did not take it that bad. It is lost, it was bad luck. I can’t beat myself down, it is not worth it. I have an 11 years old daughter, I can’t become depressed. So here I am trying to come back to normality and getting used to see with just one eye.”
Alejandro Muñoz (36)
“When I heard the sound looking around, I saw the tear gas bomb getting closer to me. It was a gray smoke trail floating in the air heading to me. I felt the blast and I fell to the ground. I could feel the gas getting inside my split eye while I screamed.”
Fabián Leiva (31)
“I felt so brainless and I said “how can a stupid more brainless than myself was going to deform my face.” Get it? How can I do this to my friends. I was supposed to take good care of them, and I could not take care of myself. But it is not my fault. No. I did not arm people without judgement, no training, that imbecile was Sebastián Piñera. There is no other.”
During the first 9 days of national demonstrations, Carabineros de Chile spent $1.175 million pesos in tear gas, of which $796 million corresponded to the Metropolitan Region alone.
Source: Interferencia.cl and Carabineros de Chile through a request for transparency
Manuel Véliz (21)
“I started going to the protests when I heard about the first young man who lost both eyes, Gustavo. On Friday, 15th of November it happened to me. This is the day I will never forget. They took my eye, but they did not take away my will to live.”
Nelson Iturriaga (44)
“I sincerely thought they shot me with a fire arm, the fear of dying was so big. It was something so bad, that in that precise moment I remembered my whole life since I went to kinder garden, to elementary and high school in one second. Imagine that. I traveled 40 years in time, from my childhood to nowadays at my present job, you know what I mean? It’s a crazy thing. That life can pass you in a second.”
Ybar Soto (29)
“If I would have shot the police in his eye, would they have me to signing once a month? I’ve had to face really hard situations, situations where I have seen the police looking at my face and laughing at me, because of the damage they did in my eye. What can I do against that? I can’t do anything. This is a huge anger and pain that is going to weigh me down my whole life. Until now I have the same answer. I do not regret for a fucking second going to protest that day because I am totally and absolutely convinced that we were not doing anything wrong. These are our rights.”
Maite Castillo (23)
“The last thing I saw was the policeman who shot me, and that is the saddest thing of all, that it’s really lame that he was the last thing I saw.”
This project was supported by
This project gathers only a few testimonies of victims of severe eye trauma by police forces during the Chilean social outbreak of 2019, and who courageously decided to share their testimonies.
This project would not be possible without the help of:
Aribel González, Alfredo Duarte, Jorge Rojas, Alejandra Carmona, Claudio Pizarro, Benjamín Liberona, André Ocares, Alexander Fuenzalida, Alejandro Olivares, Rosa Araya, Vianel González, Ivonne Toro, Ana Rodríguez, Constanza Rehren and the Goethe Institute.
2019-2020 Santiago – Chile