Chile detained Cristian Labbé, the former mayor of the Providencia borough, for allegedly conspiring to kidnap and kill people during the military dictatorship led by General Agusto Pinochet. Labbé was Pinochet’s bodyguard and allegedly served at Tejas Verdes, a major torture and execution center. After the dictatorship, the diverse, but majority upper-middle-class, voters of the Providencia borough repeatedly elected Labbé to be their mayor.
As mayor, he was known for maintaining the symbols of the dictatorship. He resisted to the end the proposed renaming of September 11 Avenue, one of the main streets through the borough. The dictatorship named the street for the date of the coup that brought Pinochet to power. Locals frequently corrected the street signs to say things like “Mal Día” or “Terrible” instead of 11 Septiembre.
But beyond the symbolic, Labbé also persisted in committing acts that should be considered human rights violations. When students — many as young as 14 — nonviolently occupied high schools across the country to demand educational reform, Providencia was the only place I heard about where police fired tear gas into the buildings to evict them. The use of gas in enclosed spaces continued even when elementary school children were present. Labbé unilaterally closed down schools and tried to expel any students who didn’t live in the borough, despite a supposed national policy allowing students to attend any schools they pleased. In short, he supported the use of extrajudicial punishments, including the brutal corporal punishment of tear gas, against children. When questioned, he scoffed at constituents.
His bullying attitude and a gradual shift in the demographics of Providencia (hardcore dictatorship supporters moving further uptown or just dying off) brought him an electoral defeat in 2012. He was so bitter at the loss that he stopped going to work during his lame duck period. The first meeting of the city council under the new mayor turned into a jubilation by the new regime, who promptly returned September 11 Avenue to its old title, New Providencia.
I don’t know what he did at Tejas Verdes, if anything. It’s now up to the courts to figure it out. In any case, this is another example of Chile showing the more “developed” world how to deal with rights violators.