Chile: gay youth's death focuses attention on hate crimes
Thousands of Chileans turned out in Santiago on March 30 for the funeral of Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man killed by a group of neo-Nazis. Many people brought flowers and signed petitions calling for an end to discrimination; almost 100 vehicles accompanied the cortege from the Zamudio family's home to the General Cemetery. Rightwing president Sebastían Piñera responded to the news of Zamudio's death by announcing "the government's total commitment against all arbitrary discrimination and for a more tolerant country." After criticism from the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh), even the conservative Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church finally denounced "the intolerance, aggression and violence" in the attack on Zamudio.
Four young men have been charged in the assault, which took place in Santiago on March 3; they have been held in preventive detention. The group reportedly tortured Zamudio for six hours, beating him, burning him with cigarettes, cutting off an ear, and carving three swastikas on his body. He lay in a coma in the Public Assistance hospital for 24 days with fractures in his skull, chest and limbs; he died on March 27. The alleged assailants had been investigated by the police in the past for attacks on Peruvian immigrants. The courts have set Apr. 23 as the date for formally charging the suspects with voluntary manslaughter in Zamudio's death.
On March 30 Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, called for "the Chilean Congress to pass a law against discrimination, especially discrimination based on sexual orientation." President Piñera's government is now planning to send Congress a bill establishing measures against discrimination, according to government spokesperson Andrés Chadwick. However, legislators have still not acted on a bill Piñera sent them last year to recognize same-sex civil unions. (emol.com, Chile, March 27; Adital, Brazil, March 30; Juventud Rebelde, Cuba, March 30; El Telégrafo, Ecuador, March 31, from AFP, EFE)
In other news, the government reported on March 30 that 228 people were arrested and 22 injured in protests that started in Santiago, Valparaíso, Concepción, Lota and other cities on the evening of March 29, a date many Chileans mark as the Day of the Young Combatant. In the capital the carabineros militarized police entered the University of Santiago de Chile (Usach) and arrested at least 56 students. Usach rector Juan Manuel Zolezzi condemned the police action as a violation of the traditional autonomy of the university.
The Day of the Young Combatant commemorates the March 29, 1985 murder of the brothers Rafael and Eduardo Vergara Toledo, 18 and 20 years old, by the carabineros in a Santiago suburb during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. This year's March 29 commemorations also included a cultural event in honor of three members of the Communist Party of Chile (PCC), Manuel Guerrero, Santiago Nattino and José Manuel Parada, killed by carabineros at almost the same time as the Vergara brothers--either on March 29 or March 30, 1985.
Despite the arrests, Under Secretary of the Interior Rodrigo Ubilla called the protests this year "a quiet day of action." He explained that "if we compare it with the previous dates, [it] had less violence and participation." (La Jornada, Mexico, March 30, March 31 from correspondent) (In 2007 at least 475 youths were arrested and about 100 police agents were reportedly injured in Day of the Young Combatant commemorations.)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 1.