Chileans angry as 45 recruits are feared forzen to death in Andes mountains

Authorities do not believe it will be possible to rescue them. Army commanders were sacked upon the tragedy

After four days of searching operations, Chilean authorities admitted last weekend that there is no chance to rescue up to 45 recruits feared frozen to death in the Andes mountains. The information sparked angry protests of soldiers' relatives who raged at military officers for leading dozens of ill-equipped teenagers into a blizzard last Friday and questioned the mandatory military recruitment system in force.

Up to now twenty-three bodies were recovered from the area of the Antuco volcano, near the Argentine border, while 22 soldiers are still believed missing. Military officials said seven bodies were taken off the mountain on Saturday.

"My son and his companions were abandoned by the officers. They were coming down together in a group and people were falling. The officer just let 28 kids fall and went on to the shelter," told to the press in Santiago Gloria Bastias, whose son Jonathan is one of those believed dead in the tragedy.

According to sources in Chile, most of the recruits missing came from poor families, enlisted a short time ago under the mandatory draft system. Ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for October, the recruitment system will be harshly discussed by candidates if not reformed by incumbent President Ricardo Lagos.

In this South American country, which macroeconomical stability and fast grow did not end with its structural inequality, young boys usually offer themselves as volunteers as a way of social improvement. The old fashioned draconian style of Chilean officers reflects in frequent problems with recruits well hidden under the carpet.

This time, the Government acted quickly. President Lagos ordered a three days national mourning, while Army commanders headed searching operations in the cold mountains and sacked the officials who led the soldiers on a march into danger instead of riding out the storm in a mountain shelter.

However, the debate over the democratization of the Chilean Armed Forces is underway an unavoidable as the military still believes in the methods of the bloody conservative dictatorship ruled by Gen. Pinochet from 1973 to 1990.

"I've come to send a big hug from millions of Chileans who share your pain," President Ricardo Lagos told families at a religious service at the base. All four candidates running in this year's presidential election also attended the service. A good signal of the mature political class ahead of a discussion that the Chilean society will impose during the next months.

On the photo: Chileans honoured dead recruits 

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Author`s name Olga Savka