SANTIAGO – Chile’s senate censured on Wednesday the country’s former interior minister – a move that prevents him from holding public office over the next five years – citing human rights abuses by security forces during his tenure as mass protests swept over the Andean nation.
The move, approved in the senate by a 23-18 vote following a 12-hour debate, sought to hold Andres Chadwick politically responsible over his management of the social protests that were sparked by a hike in subway fares in the Chilean capital, later transforming into a wave of unrest fueled by discontent at the government’s economic policies and the rampant inequality brought about by neoliberal dogma.
The former minister was accused of violating the constitution and domestic laws by disregarding effective measures to prevent the violation of human rights, as well as of failing to maintain public order.
In addition, the censure motion claimed that the former minister had violated the constitution by declaring a state of emergency that left security in the hands of the military during the first nine days of crisis.
The protest cycle, which broke out on Oct. 18, saw a combination of massive peaceful demonstrations along with isolated incidents of extreme violence as activists and security forces clashed, leaving at least 24 dead and thousands injured.
There have been hundreds of complaints against state agents using repressive measures to contain the protests, as well as several allegations of flagrant human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings.
Chadwick, who is a cousin of President Sebastian Piñera, was widely questioned for his role in managing the country’s law enforcement and public opinion quickly turned against him. He was then fired by Piñera 10 days after the unrest erupted.
The censure process empowers legislators to initiate a process to hold senior public officials politically responsible for their actions in the discharge of their duties.
The move is introduced in the lower house, while the senate acts as a jury – approving it or rejecting it – in a manner similar to the United States’ constitutional concept of impeachment.
The process may result in the dismissal of the official concerned or his disqualification from holding public office.
Currently, there is another impeachment proceeding against Piñera – also for his management in the social crisis – being deliberated in the chamber of deputies.
Following the censure by the senate, Chadwick – appearing before the media – claimed innocence and said the recent development was “unjust, unfounded and politicized.”
Before the senate vote, government spokesperson Karla Rubilar had said that the accusations against the former interior minister had no basis.
“In our tradition, censure is a political trial. He may be criminally innocent, but not politically, when he is in charge of a ministry responsible for enforcing public order and respecting human rights and fails miserably,” Socialist Party Senator Rabindranath Quinteros said in an intervention.
Left-wing Sen. Alejandro Guillier, on his part, said that an unprecedented level of human rights violations had occurred and that the authorities needed to be held responsible.
Chadwick held the interior portfolio between 2012-14 during Piñera’s first term (2010-14), and then rejoined the cabinet in March 2018.