A sergeant in Chile’s carabineros militarized police force, Hugo Albornoz, died in a hospital in Temuco, the capital of the southern region of Araucanía, the evening of April 2; he had been shot in the neck by unknown attackers earlier in the day. Sgt. Albornoz was part of a large group of police agents from the carabineros Special Operations Group (GOPE) that had searched through homes of indigenous Mapuche that morning in the village of Wente Winkul Mapu in Ercilla commune, Araucanía, for evidence about an October 2011 attack on the Centenario estate, the property of Juan de Dios Fuentes.
According to Luis Chamorro, a local prosecutor who led the search, the operation resulted in three arrests and the seizure of weapons and ski masks, but there was no confrontation with the inhabitants or any use of tear gas. After the agents left the village, they were fired on by about 15 men in the woods around the road, the authorities said. In addition to Albornoz, two other carabineros were hit, but their injuries were not life-threatening. (Radio Biobío, Chile, April 2; AFP, April 2, via Univision; La Tercera, Chile, April 3)
On April 3 a spokesperson for Wente Winkul Mapu, Daniel Melinao, denied that village residents were involved in the shooting. “We don’t know where this bullet came from, but we are peaceful as a community, although we are also worried by the situation,” he said. (Radio Cooperativa, Chile, April 4, via Mapu Express)
The Araucanía and Biobío regions in southern Chile have been in turmoil for years because of disputes between timber companies and Mapuche activists who say the companies are invading Mapuche ancestral lands. With about one million members, the Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group; according to José Aylwin, co-director of the Temuco office of the Citizens’ Monitoring Center, one third of the country’s Mapuche population lives in Araucanía. “The state has, regrettably, generated violence for a long time” in the region by siding with the timber companies, he told Radio Cooperativa. Two companies, Arauco S.A. and Forestal Mininco, made $1.5 billion in profits in 2010 alone, Aylwin said. Sgt. Albornoz was the fourth person to die in the conflict in the last decade, Aylwin noted; the other three were Mapuche killed by carabineros. (Radio Cooperativa, April 3)
Luis García Huidobro, a Jesuit who said he witnessed the April 2 raid, called it “a totally useless operation” involving “some 10 police vehicles, a small tank, a zorrillo [vehicle for dispensing tear gas], an armored bus for transporting carabineros, and various vans.” “They shouldn’t send carabineros,” he wrote in an open letter; “but should send someone from the government to open up a dialogue and return those lands so that there will be peace.” (Prensa Latina, April 3)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 8.
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