Mapuche protests: battle for land in Chile

Mapuche protests: battle for land in Chile

New stage in the conflict over land and resources: in Chile, town halls occupied by members of the indigenous Mapuche people were stormed.

Things are boiling in Chile’s Araucania province. At the end of July, members of the Mapuche people occupied five town halls. Because the mayors did not order an evacuation, residents in the towns of Curacautín and Victoria tried to evacuate the town halls on their own, armed with wooden and iron bars. Shouting racist slogans, they forcibly gained entry. Eventually all the town halls of Carabineros were cleared.

With the occupation, the Mapuche wanted to support their 28 prisoners on hunger strikes. Most of them have been convicted of land occupation or arson or are on remand. Some have refused to eat since May. On Tuesday it’s 100 days. Since last week they have also been refusing to drink fluids. Meanwhile, the state of health is more than critical for some.

Because of the risk of Covid-19 disease in the cramped prisons, they are demanding that they be transferred to house arrest. But while the government agreed to transfer other inmates to house arrest, it refused to give the Mapuche any concessions.

“The pressure from the residents has pushed the Carabineros to evacuate,” said Victoria’s Mayor Javier Jaramillo. “For the first time citizens and citizens faced each other violently,” said Jaramillo. According to the Carabineros, 48 people were arrested, including 13 minors, all of them Mapuche, with some serious injuries. Arrests of the rioting residents were not reported. The town halls in Ercilla and Traiguén burned out.

The mayor’s anger is directed against Interior Minister Víctor Pérez. Pérez belongs to the ultra-right and pinochet-loyal UDI party and was appointed Minister of the Interior by President Sebastián Piñera on July 28th. “I will pay special attention to Araucania,” he announced and traveled to the province the next day.

Without speaking to the five mayors, he asked for the town halls to be vacated. In the social networks this was interpreted as a license to act. The town halls were stormed a day later.

Pérez knew that he was igniting. In June and July, nearly 250 Mapuche protests were recorded in the provinces of Araucania, Biobío, Los Ríos and Los Lagos, Chile’s attorney general has just announced. In addition to demonstrations, this also includes land occupations, road blockades, arson attacks on barns and crops, and trucks transporting timber.

Just last week, ten trucks and three construction vehicles burned out. The incidents are accused of being terrorist acts of violence. The almost daily repression of the Carabineros during their patrols against the Mapuche is not recorded.

“For the last time, we are calling on the executive, legislative and judicial branches to enforce the rule of law across the country. Otherwise we declare ourselves free to take other actions and measures,” says a declaration by 165 companies and their associations from the region. The existing “terrorism” does not allow one to work or live in peace, it says in the letter of August 7th. This refers to the Mapuche protests.

With around 1.6 million members, the Mapuche are the largest indigenous people in the Andean state and make up a good 9 percent of the around 17.5 million Chileans. They are native to the central and southern provinces of Bio-Bío, Araucania and Los Ríos. Most of them live in the capital. They are not a homogeneous community that pulls together. For many, however, it is about self-determination and the right to their land.

They refer to Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which Chile adopted in 2008 and which calls for “the effective protection of their property and property rights”. In the fierce conflicts with the state, government and the companies from the mining, wood and cellulose industries that are intertwined with them, it is about access to natural resources.

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