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  • Chileans protest near the government house in Santiago, Chile.

    Chileans protest near the government house in Santiago, Chile. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 December 2018
Opinion

Hermes Soto is accused of helping cover up the murder of Camilo Catrillanca.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera asked the country's police chief, Hermes Soto, to resign Thursday amid growing controversy over the circumstances in which police shot and killed an un-armed Indigenous man, Camilo Catrillanca.

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Last month, the Mapuche man was shot in the head during a police operation near the town of Ercilla, in the Araucania region.

Police originally said they had acted in self-defense when they fired on Catrillanca but the government and subsequent police reports found that he was unarmed. The police had also said there was no footage of the events, which was also untrue. It was later revealed that one policeman had a body camera; he later said that he had erased the memory card because it contained “private” images.

Cartillanca’s murder prompted fury among opposition parties and human rights activists and triggered widespread protests throughout Chile.

The Piñera administration had come under increasing pressure to remove Hermes Soto, the country's top-ranking police officer, amid accusations Soto had helped cover up the murder.

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At a news conference at the La Moneda presidential palace Thursday, Piñera said he had asked Soto to resign and that 10 other top police generals would depart as well.

However, Chileans have also demanded interior minister Andres Chadwick to step down, claiming he is directly responsible for Catrillanca’s murder. Activists and rights defenders have also demanded an end to the criminalization of Mapuche people and their struggle to recover ancestral lands taken by the state and private companies.  

"I've reached the conclusion that Chile's police needs new leadership to face, with more will, effectiveness and speed, all of today's problems and the big challenges of the future," Piñera said.

In his televised statement, Piñera also praised the police and expressed his esteem for Soto. He also referred to the case, saying he was committed to uncovering the truth in the "unfortunate death" of Catrillanca.

Earlier this week, two additional police videos surfaced in the local media, showing key moments of the raid and raising questions as to the veracity of the original police account.

Piñera said he would purge officers who had provoked a "credibility crisis" in the 60,000-strong police force.

"A small group of police has betrayed their oath, dishonored their institution and caused grave harm to society," he said.

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