Last week (August 2nd) marked the fourth anniversary of the day that Gabriel Blas, a 28-year-old Aymara woman, was arrested for losing her 3-year-old son. Blas was ultimately convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison when her son wandered out of her house and was killed. The case has received some amount of attention both within Chile and internationally as many commentators have noticed the harshness of the penalty and the court’s inability or unwillingness to take into account Aymara cultural practices when rendering its judgement. In response to this case, last week Deputy Orlando Vargas (PPD) and Deputy Adriana Muñoz (PPD) called for the President to pardon Blas.
Blas is an Aymara woman who has spent her whole life — before prison — tending animals in a highlands (altiplano) of northern Chile. She lives in an area where there are no daycares, no babysitters, nor even preschools. The tradition in that region — a tradition that Blas learned growing up — includes taking one’s children out into the fields to help tend with the animals. In July of 2007, Blas left her son inside their home briefly as she went to find some animals who had wandered off that day. When she returned, her son was missing. She searched for him for days and, ultimately, he was found dead and Blas was arrested.
Blas was deemed a “threat to society” and placed into solitary confinement for the first five months of her detention. She would go on to spend almost 1000 days in prison before actually standing trial. During this time, she lost custody of her other two children and to this day does not know where her youngest daughter (just a few months of age at the time of the incident) was taken.
When Blas was finally taken to trial, she ultimately ended up with a 12-year sentence. The court’s decision has been widely criticized for its disproportionate sentencing and failure to take into account ILO Convention 169 and similar legal principles on indigenous rights. Critics have often noted that non-indigenous caretakers who have been responsible for children who have died have received far less substantial penalties. The most common example is that of a Chilean woman who works at a nursery and left a child strapped in a car in the hot sun. The child was killed, and the woman received a one-year sentence. In addition, ILO Convention 169 — which is now part of Chilean law — requires courts to take into consideration traditional indigenous practices and traditional indigenous concepts of justice, when applicable, and to draw from those values when deciding how to act. The Convention specifically discusses considering non-jail options when indigenous values differ from those of the state.
In response to this case, the Aymara people have been trying to draw attention to this case and to ask for a pardon. Deputies Vargas and Muñoz joined their voices last week and cited both international and national law to bolster their case. At the time of this writing, no response from the President has been made.