Retired Chilean army colonel Pedro Espinoza and former Chilean air force intelligence agent Rafael González Berdugo have been convicted in the murder of US journalist Charles Horman and US graduate student Frank Teruggi during the days after the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende Gossens. Judge Jorge Zepeda sentenced Espinoza—formerly an officer in the now-defunct National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) who has been described as the right-hand man of DINA head Manuel Contreras—to seven years in prison for the two murders. González Berdugo was sentenced to two years of police surveillance as an accomplice in Harmon's murder. Judge Zepeda ruled in the case on Jan. 9 but the decision wasn't announced until Jan. 28. Last summer the judge officially ruled that "US military intelligence services played a fundamental role in the murders" by supplying information to the Chilean military. (El Ciudadano, Chile, Jan. 31)
In other news, on Jan. 28 Chile's Senate approved a law authorizing civil unions for same-sex couples. The Chamber of Deputies had passed the law on Jan. 20 in an 86-23 vote, with two abstentions. The legislation ensures members of same-sex couples rights to receive pensions, enroll in health plans and inherit property from one another; it also provides them with greater standing in child custody cases. President Michelle Bachelet says her long-term goal is full same-sex marriage rights, a position supported by 46% of the population and opposed by 42%, according to a 2013 poll by the US-based Pew Research Center. Same-sex marriage is recognized in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and parts of Mexico; civil unions are recognized in Colombia and Ecuador. Chile tends to be conservative on social issues; divorce wasn't legalized until 2004, all abortions remain illegal, and sodomy was punishable with prison until 1999. (TeleSUR English, Jan. 21; Jamaica Observer, Jan. 28, from AFP)
Chile's Congress has also been working on removing laws and practices imposed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The Chamber of Deputies voted on Jan. 20 to eliminate the "binominal" electoral formula established by Pinochet's 1980 Constitution, a formula which opponents say has made it possible for the right to control half the seats in Congress while getting just over a third of the votes; the legislation had already won approval in the Senate. The new proportional voting system should make it easier for smaller parties to compete; the new law also expands the Chamber from 120 to 155 seats and the Senate from 38 to 50 seats. (TeleSUR English, Jan. 21; Latin American Herald Tribune, Jan. 20)
Legislation that President Bachelet calls the first phase of rolling back the Pinochet-era education system passed the Senate on Jan. 22 and the Chamber of Deputies on Jan. 26. The dictatorship's highly privatized system was the target of massive student protests from 2011 through 2013; several of the student leaders at that time are now members of Congress. (La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 23, from correspondent; Reuters, Jan. 27)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 1.