Rodrigo Melgarejo, Grace Frutos, Bianca Cunningham, Brandon King, and Maya Lazzaro – five United States citizens on a cultural exchange to Chile, were arrested and illegally deported from the country.
The US delegation was part of a cultural exchange between women and men movement leaders across North America and Chile. The goal of the exchange was to learn about the experiences of people of color across geopolitical regions in the areas of narrative shift, communal self-determination and citizen journalism.
On Thursday March 11, the five US delegation members were arrested while getting off their return flight to Santiago from Temuco. Temuco is the capital of the region known as La Araucania, which has been heavily militarized due to the ongoing land reclamation struggle of the indigenous Mapuche people against the Chilean government and the multinational corporations whose financial interests it protects.
As the plane landed in Santiago police pulled the five individuals from the line, first targeting Bianca Cunningham, a Black woman from the delegation. Members of the delegation were held by PDI, Chile’s investigative police at the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport until approximately 4 AM, where they were fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned. Thereafter, they were transferred to Hotel Nova Park and held until their required quarantine was completed. The delegation was released on Sunday, March 14, after complying with the sanitary regulations, taking a PCR exam and all members testing negative for Covid-19.
Upon arrival at their residence, members of the delegation continued to be surveilled and followed by police, including a trip to La Victoria, a local neighborhood where the group was participating in a walking tour.
When the local resident giving the tour approached the parked car which had been following the delegation, the driver of the truck sped off, but not before the license plate was recorded, and later revealed to be registered to police. Said car surveillance continued in the following days, with licence plates consistently found to be registered under the Chilean police force.
On the early morning of Wednesday March 17, approximately eight PDI officers arrived at the residence and re-arrested the five delegation members. Consequently, they were transferred to Jefatura Nacional de Migraciones y Policía Internacional where they were held until 5 pm before being taken to the airport and deported back to the US. Members had their phones and passports confiscated and told that the pilots had the right to have them handcuffed for the duration of the flight back to the US.
The excessive behavior of Chilean police is reminiscent of repressive tactics used by police during the country’s dictatorship era, where thousands were killed, tortured, and disappeared. It is also consistent with the increasingly repressive tactics to surveil and silence millions of Chileans who have taken to the streets over the last 18 months to demand structural changes to the profit-driven pension, education, and public health systems. To date, as a result of the uprising there are 2,500 political prisoners, over 450 people who have suffered ocular injuries at the hands of police, and subsequently, 45 people who have been killed.
What is the Chilean government hiding that they would proceed to illegally deport five US cultural workers in such an expeditious and clandestine manner?
Please contact the Chilean Consulate in NYC at (212) 980-3706 and demand the following:
A full pardon of the Chile Five and investigation as to why they were illegally detained and deported [Bianca Cunningham, Brandon King, Grace Frutos, Maya Lazzaro, Rodrigo Melgarejo]
Free all political prisoners of Chile’s social uprising
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