As Chile nears seven weeks of social unrest, the name of a college student who was blinded by police rubber bullets while demonstrating in the nationwide protests has become a rallying cry.
According to Reuters, “Gustavo Gatica” is written on city walls, scrawled on placards and yelled at law enforcement to denounce the police abuse and human rights violations that have taken place in the South American country since its people began protesting on October 17.
The news wire reports that on November 8, the 22-year-old student was taking photos of a protest when police rubber bullets struck him in the eyes. Last week, doctors announced that they were unable to save the man’s vision and that he is now blind. He is the second person to be left completely blind during the protests and one of 241 Chileans who have suffered eye injuries, Chile’s Institute for Human Rights (INDH) notes.
According to CNN, Chilean police chief Mario Rozas has identified the officers who fired the rubber bullet shots at Gatica and his force is currently working with prosecutors. “I deeply regret what Gustavo suffered,” he told the news outlet.
The interior minister Gonzalo Blumel also called Gatica’s case “deeply painful” and stressed revising police protocols around the use of force, including suspending the use of rubber bullets except in cases of threat to life.
However, demonstrators, who initially took to the streets to protest social inequality, have become energized even after President Sebastián Piñera introduced a new spending package and constitution due to the growing examples of state violence. According to Reuters, at least 26 people have died and 13,000 have been injured in cases related to the protests.
According to Gatica’s brother Enrique, the student is home in Colina, north of the nation’s capital of Santiago, where he has been following and supporting the ongoing demonstrations.
He told the news wire that his brother’s case “serves to renew the protests’ energy” and “to ensure change is achieved.”