Chile’s shameful night of violence shatters strained relationship with Indigenous communities

Chile protest
Carole Concha Bell

On Saturday 2 August, Mapuche Indigenous community members occupied a council building in Curacuatín, Southern Chile, to protest about the inhumane conditions political prisoners are being subjected to.

That night, an armed group of civilian vigilantes, aided by local police, stormed the building and evicted them. The protesters were badly beaten and detained. The violent incident has been condemned by human rights groups who are urging the UN to investigate. Many are blaming the visit of controversial newly appointed interior minister Victor Pérez for fanning the flames of local tensions when he visited the area several days before the racially motivated violence began.

Criminalising indigenous autonomy

At present, there is a hunger strike in three prisons in Southern Chile, the home of Indigenous Mapuche communities. Machi Celestino Cordoba, leader and healer, is in a critical condition. The prisoners are accused of terrorism under the 1984 Terror Law enacted by brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. Chile still operates under the Pinochet Constitution, a subject of contention for many Chileans. This law has effectively outlawed the struggle for the autonomy of indigenous peoples to practice their culture and live on ancestral land.

Reynaldo Mariqueo from Bristol Based NGO Mapuche International Link told The Canary:

During the Pinochet regime, landowners would hunt Mapuche leaders aided by the police. Today the same extreme right again aided by the police, under curfew with the consent of minister Varela and other local authorities, violently evicted peacefully protesting Mapuche, shouting racist insults.

The occupying protesters included families of prisoners and were there to highlight the discrimination that Mapuche political prisoners are being subjected to. The prisoners have been on hunger strike for 90 days and are in a critical condition. Most of the prisoners are being held in preventive prison because innocent before being proved guilty does not apply to the Mapuche. They are simply asking for equal treatment as stated in Article 169 of the OIT, as the government remains silent to these just demands.

Hardline Fascism

Under Sebastian Pinera, the Chilean government has been shifting further to the extreme right, illustrated by the controversial appointment last week of Pérez.

Perez formed part of the Pinochet regime serving as mayor and then senator. He visited Pinochet in Virginia Water, Surrey, when he was under arrest for crimes against humanity.

Locals report that within hours of Pérez’s arrival in the region last Saturday, the vigilantes were mobilised. The mayor of Curacautin Jorge Saquel said he was not consulted about the visit and Pérez made no attempt to meet local authorities. Local police were said to have aided the mob.

A series of Mapuche led protests and occupations are expected to persist as unrest continues to rage in Chile’s Araucania.

Featured image via Facebook – Weychan

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