Three Years Since the Massacre at San Miguel Prison
published in La Semilla Negra
It’s been three years since the massacre at San Miguel prison, where 81 male prisoners died. This terrible act openly exposed the critical state of the penitentiary system, the dramatic reality of the lives of prisoners in chilean jails, which for years have maintained overpopulation to the point of exceeding 300% overflow of their capacity; this is the case of the Lebu jail (with a 306% deficit in 2010) and the Buin jail (with a 600% deficit in 2010)1.
Some months before the massacre, in march 2010, the Council for Penitentiary Reform issued a report which highlights the necessity of counteracting the soaring penal population, and the deprivation of liberty as principal means of punishment. The investigation emphasized demonstrating how prison does not roll back rates of “delinquency” or much less achieve “social reinsertion” for those deprived of their freedom. However, the political class, knowing the results of this report and so many others, national and international, knowing in detail the critical conditions of the penitentiary system, puts effort into maintaining and strengthening it to the point of promoting the construction of ten new jails in the country, through a significant investment of more than $400 million in 2011, which simultaneously represented the growth of the prisoner population by an increase of 30% of the capacity of the prisons.
The prison policies of democratic governments reinforced by that of Piñera, have as their objective to consolidate social control based on the possibility for the population to be prisoners, and so to reaffirm the prison system as one of their principal apparatuses. The former is demonstrated by the explosive increase of the penitentiary population in Chile. From the reform of criminal procedure, between 1998 and 2009, from 60,990 to 106,877 people passed through the penitentiary system, representing a growth of 75%. This makes Chile the country with the largest prison population in all of Latin America.
Democratic governments lay the foundation for the people, through fear and mistrust, to validate their own cage and in this way justifies the maintenance of these human warehouses. This is the critical role played by “the media”, when given daily images of petty crime, pointing to minor robbery or theft in the street, or to microtrafficking in the towns as the principal causes of the origin of “social insecurity or public danger or the internal enemy”, even though they are lesser events than the commission of systemic violence.
The mass media manage to propagate, on the one hand, consumption through attractive advertising, but are also responsible for alarming the public about the possibility of losing everything. This is how one of the principal fears of the citizen is of losing what he consumes, of being robbed of what he acquired through hard work, through the burden of exploitation that is labor. The government knows this, and both the right and the left have won votes thanks to the common discourse of “a strong hand against crime”, but the crimes actually judged by the judiciary and dominant bourgeois and christian morals, are those which cause significantly less damage.
The laws are made NOT to punish the crimes that truly have greater social impact, because more people are affected. Fraud, torture, contamination of the environment, corruption, labor exploitation, trafficking, tax evasion, are actions by white collar men and women who nevertheless go unpunished simply because the laws were fabricated so that they are not punished or even rejected socially. Additionally the businesspeople, the politicians, the army and the religious who have committed crimes against humanity are not thrown in jail;for them there is no system of rehabilitation and continuous monitoring; and although they continuously and systematically attack the life and liberty of the people and of the community, they do not inhabit the prisons, and in the few cases where they do, the government invests a budget five times greater than what is spent for each common prisoner, to ensure their comfort. This has been the case for the few uniformed soldiers of genocide from the dictatorship who are currently in Punta Peuco. The conditions in this prison are the radical opposite, they don’t live in crowded conditions, they have visiting rights every day, the bathrooms are clean, they eat well, the guards act like their slaves, they can count on a defense, et cetera ad infinitum.
Today, almost three years since the massacre at San Miguel prison, knowing that the penitentiary system is a lucrative item for private corporations like Sodexo; knowing of the systematic violation of the most basic rights that a person deprived of liberty can have for their survival; aware of the poor state of the cells, of the hallways, of the bathrooms, of the overcrowding of both public and private prisons,knowing that on the street of the ex penitentiary there live 450 people and there are only 36 small rooms, meaning that up to 15 or 20 sleep in each, often sitting, or outdoors. Today remembering the grim assassination of the 81 prisoners of San Miguel:
We denounce the chilean state for sustaining the penitentiary system.
We denounce the chilean state for sustaining a regime of torture and systematic violation of rights.
We denounce the chilean state as ultimately responsible for the deaths of 81 men in San Miguel prison.