Chile: Support for Mapuche political prisoners grows

A woman holds a Mapuche flag during a demonstration in Santiago in support of Mapuche political prisoners
September 29, 2017

More than 2000 people demonstrated on September 26 in Chile's capital Santiago to support four Mapuche Indigenous community members who have been on hunger strike in prison for 113 days.

The four were charged under a controversial anti-terrorism bill passed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The prisoners have lost 15-22 kilograms, according to a medical expert sent to the prison on September 21, presenting symptoms including a deterioration of cognitive functions.

Chanting "for the dignity of the Mapuche people," the demonstrators marched down Santiago’s major thoroughfares, lit fires in the streets and blocked traffic for evening commuters. Police used water cannon to break up the demonstrators.

Protests were also held in other cities across Chile.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales has also condemned the persecution and abduction of Indigenous peoples and came out in solidarity with the Mapuche political prisoners, tweeting on September 28: “As in colonial times and dictatorships, the persecution and abduction of Indigenous peoples is deplorable.”

Chile's largest native ethnic group, the Mapuche, who live mainly in the Temuco area of southern Chile, have been in a struggle with the government as they try to regain land lost during Chile's 19th century expansion southward into the Mapuche-held territory.

The four activists, consisting of three brothers and the head of a Mapuche community, Lonko Alfredo Tralcal, are accused of being the perpetrators of the burning of the temple in the town of Padre Las Casas in 2016, located in the region of Araucania, in the south of the country.

In Araucania, Indigenous members occupied about 600,000 hectares, which is equivalent to 5% of their ancestral lands and one-sixth of what the lumber companies own.

The claims on the lands by the Mapuche people have resulted in decades of struggle, leading to violence and deaths against leaders, as well as women, children and the elderly by the Chilean state.

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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