While the government insists that the three soldiers arrested in Chile on Wednesday were involved in the fight against smuggling, Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado dismissed this version, asserting that “there are crimes that need to be investigated”.
“We hope that this can be resolved in the way that is necessary, but there have been crimes here in the state that the prosecution is also investigating,” Delgado told the Chilean press yesterday.
Daniel Vargas, Vice Minister for Combating Smuggling, assured: “We will have the investigation carried out to show that our troops are working in the fight against smuggling. They were in the ban on vehicles entering the country illegally ”.
He added that the troops already have a defense attorney appointed by the State Department. “I will not go into details of the arrests or give an opinion on whether or not they were stolen, that will be determined by the investigation,” he said.
The Chilean minister responded to a government statement on Wednesday assuring that the uniformed officers involved are “conducting an operation in the Pisiga-Colchane border area to seize vehicles that have illegally entered Bolivian territory”.
“On our side, on the Chilean side, not only do we have a testimony, but we also have victim testimony, we have witness testimony, we have pictures and we have GPS tracking and that makes a big difference in interpreting reality,” said the Chilean Foreign Minister.
The events took place at dawn on Wednesday in the Colchane parish. Three alleged victims told a border police that people disguised as soldiers, impersonating members of the Bolivian army, stole their vehicles and threatened them with long weapons.
Employees of the Chilean Carabineros Police found the suspects and, after an exchange of fire, arrested three inmates of one of the vehicles who turned out to be members of the Bolivian army.
Delgado reiterated that the Chilean Foreign Ministry is in fluent communication with its Bolivian counterpart and hopes that the situation can be resolved in the “necessary manner”.
This fact has been confirmed by the Bolivian Defense Minister Edmundo Novillo. “The steps are being taken so that the problem can be resolved amicably through diplomatic channels. Our Chancellor is already taking care of his entire team, ”he said.
According to Vargas, the Bolivian troops were patrolling a very sensitive region because undocumented vehicles and trucks with goods were arriving there. “So you have to falsify the statements made in Chile that it was a robbery, it is wrong,” he said.
The official also said the Chilean government’s statements are contradictory because it handles two versions of the military’s distance, 15 km on the one hand and 2 km on the other.
“We have three soldiers who were arrested by the Carabineros de Chile. We also have an officer who was wounded in the arm by a rubber bullet; It is believed that this is the weapon the officer was injured with. To this day he is hospitalized in a private clinic in the city of Oruro, he is stable, ”he explained.
Oruro Department Public Prosecutor Gonzalo Álvarez announced that the injured person is in the Natividad Clinic in that city. He indicated that he did not want to provide any further information about the wound on his arm.
You have legal counsel
Tomorrow the hearing of the three Bolivian soldiers who were intercepted by the Chilean police in Colchane on Wednesday will take place. The prisoners are Lieutenant Jaime Herbas, Sub-Lieutenant Niger Ponce and Sergeant José Bautista Carvajal.
The government said it had already contacted the military to “calm them down” and tell them that the detainees were “doing their job.” Legal assistance is also provided to officers.
The border, site of frequent incidents
There have already been several incidents in the border area between Bolivia and Chile.
In January 2013, three soldiers with war weapons invaded Chilean territory, which is why they were detained for several weeks in the neighboring country, precisely in the Colchane sector, in the Tarapacá region. After his expulsion from the Transandan country, Morales adorned the three members of the military establishment.
In 2017, border incidents similar to the current one were registered, one involving nine Bolivian officers and another involving two Chilean soldiers.
At the time, Bolivia and Chile defended that these events occurred in the context of combating and prosecuting crimes at the border, such as smuggling.
On that occasion, Bolivian officials were arrested, tried and expelled from Chile after being detained for 101 days for various crimes, while Bolivia decided to bring the two police officers back in two days.
Former President Morales attacked the Chilean government on Twitter and turned to international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) to denounce the “unjust and violent” detention of the armed forces.
The border crossing between the small Chilean town of Colchane and Bolivia, an Andean region at over 3,600 meters above sea level with extreme temperatures, has developed into a common route for foreigners to arrive irregularly in Chile in recent months. At least nine people have died so far this year.