Chile’s struggle to contain riotous burials for alleged gang members raises questions about why this practice is commonplace in a country that has not traditionally seen the funerary excesses of drug traffickers elsewhere in the region.
On August 17, authorities arrested 10 people in the town of Maipú, near Santiago, during the funeral of an alleged member of a gang known as Los Lobos that was killed during a settling of scores with another group, according to BioBioChile, citing military police sources. Police reported that attendees fired automatic weapons in the air and set off fireworks.
This is far from the first such incident in recent months linked to what have become known as “narco-funerals” but which authorities refer to as “high-risk funerals.” On August 16, a fire allegedly started by fireworks during a “narco-funeral” in Santiago spread to a nearby home and put a young child in critical condition.
And in July, 57 people were arrested at a funeral for a man who had been shot dead in Santiago’s La Prado neighborhood, according to Chilean news site T13. The report added that 21 “narco-funerals” are happening in Chile on average every month, even amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Although these funerals have not caused any significant loss of life or damage, authorities have cracked down. Last year, Chile’s Undersecretariat for Crime Prevention (Subsecretaría de Prevención del Delito — SPD) created a range of measures specifically targeting these funerals, including a dedicated task force. President Sebastián Piñera also proposed a law to increase punishments for those firing weapons or setting off fireworks in public.
These funerals are coming at a challenging time for Chile. Violent crime has risen sharply during the pandemic and a survey in June found that drug trafficking was now the major security concern for most Chileans.
InSight Crime Analysis
Funerals for young gang members in Chile may lack the large crowds, police escorts and ornate tombs seen during the burials of fallen drug traffickers in Mexico. But this does not make them any less unsettling.
“These narco-funerals are real evidence of a loss of control of public spaces. They have also been associated with a wave of attacks against police stations, which could be a response by drug gangs to the crackdown [on the funerals],” Juan Pablo Toro, director of the Chilean think tank AthenaLab, told InSight Crime.
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And while Chile’s low homicide rate still makes it the safest country in Latin America, these shows of defiance to authority are happening in some of its more violent areas. In Santiago’s neighborhood of Lo Prado, where a number of these funerals have taken place, homicides were up 22 percent in the first half of 2020, according to police sources quoted by La Tercera.
The police response to send in forces is designed to make their presence felt during the funerals of young men who have been killed during gang violence, according to Lucia Dammert, a public security expert at the University of Santiago. “But the homicides themselves are taking place in areas where the state presence is very low. It’s a vicious circle,” she told InSight Crime.