More than 40 conscripted soldiers in the Chilean Army have been infected with an unknown respiratory disease in recent weeks, according to Spanish-language news outlet El Pais. One patient, 19-year-old Franco Vargos, died Saturday April 27th while engaged in military service in the remote northern town of Putre.

Vargos’ family is attempting to hold the Chilean military responsible for the death, and intends to file a lawsuit against the army. The nation’s army opened an investigation into Vargas’ death on May 2nd.

According to the Army, Vargos’ was serving in the Huamachuco Motorized Brigade No. 24 of the VI Army Division. While engaging in marching drills from the Pacollo Training Camp to the Putre Military Barracks, Vargos reportedly broke down with respiratory issues. He was taken to a local hospital by the regiment’s infirmary. The Army’s official numbers say 45 other conscripted soldiers suffered from the same respiratory disease, and at least seven have been hospitalized. At least two of those are in “serious condition.” The remaining soldiers are in quarantine. A reporter for El Pais says all 45 were diagnosed after the same march, and that they showed gastrointestinal infections in addition to respiratory.

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“The respective summary administrative investigations have been ordered to be carried out in order to contribute to clarifying the facts and possible responsibilities,” the Army said in a statement.

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The head of the Chilean Army, Javier Iturriaga, said he was less than confident in the handling of Vargas’ collapse: he said there was “a reasonable doubt regarding the correct execution of the instruction, compliance with the internal regime protocols and health protocols” and that “there was a lack of diligence and omissions to adequately investigate, and in a prudent time, falsehoods and misrepresentations that lead to the command responsibility of the highest authorities in the area.”

Over 100 conscripted soldiers resigned after Vargas’ death, and the nation is being reminded of a 2005 incident where an officer and 44 conscripts froze to death while marching in the mountainous region of Biobio.

According to Sebastian Andrade, the lawyer representing Franco’s mother Rommy Vargas, the solider was marching in the early morning in -15 degree temperature Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) and with only one layer of thin clothing. “Before starting, Franco tells the colonel [the military instructor] I don’t feel up to it, I don’t think I’m going to make it, and the colonel ignores it. They go for a walk, Franco faints, faints. The colonel repeatedly humiliates him, this due to testimonies from other conscripts, he treats him as a coward, he treats him as a f*****, he treats him that he is not a soldier and that they cannot have people like that,” Andrade explained in an interview.

In a thorough complaint filed with the Arica Guarantee Court, Rommy Vargas detailed how her son was subject to abusive conditions leading up to his death.

The judge involved in the case, Jenny Book, confirmed on May 9th that one solider had to have their hand amputated due to “an infectious condition.”

Military service is voluntary in Chile until its branches fail to meet their quotas, at which point conscriptions become mandatory for men between 17 and 24. According to Vargas’ mother, he voluntarily joined the military for economic and patriotic reasons.

On May 16th, a Chilean police cadet named Ignacia Albornoz died of a cardiac arrest after allegedly being forced to run in the rain. She was diagnosed with pneumonia after being hospitalized and was told to rest for three days. When she finished, she was cleared to continue working by the medical staff.

Shane Devine is a writer covering politics and business for VT and a regular guest on The Unusual Suspects. Follow Shane’s work here.

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