Chile: activists fast for Mapuche hunger strikers

A group of 12 Chilean activists began an open-ended “massive solidarity fast” on Sept. 14 to support indigenous Mapuche prisoners who have been carrying out a liquids-only hunger strike since July 12. The solidarity fasters included the presidents of the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) and the Federation of University of Santiago Students; the president of the Copper Workers Commission of the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT); and members of the Coordinating Committee of Santiago Autonomous Mapuche (COOAMS) and the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees. A number of leftists, unionists and artists expressed their solidarity with the fast, which was being held in the FECH offices in Santiago.

As of Sept. 14 there were 34 prisoners in six prisons–ConcepciĆ³n, Temuco, Valdivia, Angol, Lebu and Chol Chol–taking part in the hunger strike. Many were suffering from heart and kidney problems and had lost more than 25% of their original weight, according to the Coordinating Committee of Relatives of Mapuche Political Prisoners on Hunger Strike. The action was started to protest Law No. 19.027, an “anti-terrorism” measure first enacted in 1984 under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. August Pinochet; it treats illegal land occupations and attacks on the equipment or personnel of multinational companies as acts of terrorism and subjects those charged with the offenses to both civilian and military courts. Mapuche activists say that their land has been taken illegally and that the law criminalizes legitimate forms of protest.

Chile’s rightwing president SebastiĆ”n PiƱera, who took office on March 11, has proposed modifications to the law and has brought in ConcepciĆ³n archbishop Ricardo Ezzati to serve as a mediator. On Sept. 14 the government authorized the release of two of the striking prisoners, Pablo Conio and Sergio Tralcal, on a bail of about $2,000. Conio and Tralcal said they would continue to participate in the hunger strike despite the release order. (CoordinaciĆ³n de Familiares de Presos PolĆ­ticos Mapuche en Huelga de Hambre press release, Sept. 14; La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 15, from correspondent; Indian Country Today, Sept. 14, from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 19.

See our last posts on Chile and the Mapuche struggle.