Chile: Mapuche acquitted of “terrorist” charges

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 31:

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the Oral Criminal Court in the Chilean city of Temuco acquitted six Mapuche rights activists in a retrial on charges of “terrorist illicit association.” The ruling was handed down at the close of the trial on July 22, and was officially announced at a brief hearing on July 27. The regional prosecutor’s office had charged lonkos (community leaders) Pascual Pichun and Aniceto Norin, Mapuche activists Jose Llanca Ailla, Jorge Huaiquin Antinao and Marcelo Quintrileo Contreras, and non-Mapuche sympathizer Patricia Troncoso with forming an illegal association to plan and commit “terrorist” acts–including incendiary attacks, theft and other crimes–on behalf of the Arauco-Malleco Coordinating Committee (CAM), a Mapuche land rights group. Most of the alleged crimes were against property and none posed a direct threat to life. “The Chilean government should take careful note of today’s verdict and stop using the country’s antiterrorism law in cases for which it clearly is inapplicable,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for the US-based Human Rights Watch on July 22.

Last Nov. 4, a different panel of judges on the Temuco Oral Criminal Court unanimously acquitted the same six defendants and two others, finding that the evidence was too weak to sustain a verdict of illicit terrorist association. That acquittal came less than two weeks after Human Rights Watch and the Chilean nongovernmental organization Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Watch issued a joint report criticizing the Chilean government’s use of anti-terrorism laws against Mapuche activists. In April, Chile’s Supreme Court annulled the November acquittal, saying that the trial court failed to specify why it had rejected prosecution evidence. In the retrial, prosecutors apparently failed to convince the judges of the existence of even “simple illicit association” among the six; the court said other criminal charges were not applicable because the defendants had already been tried on those charges.

Another 10 people charged in the case remain at large and were not covered by the latest acquittal. Pichun and Norin are currently serving five-year prison sentences for “terrorist threats”; those sentences were upheld by Chile’s Supreme Court on Dec. 15, 2003. (Human Rights Watch, July 22; Pulsar, July 26 via Santiago Indymedia; El Mostrador, Chile, July 27)

On July 14, agents of the militarized Carabineros police used tear gas and water cannons against a march in Santiago in support of the Mapuches on trial in Temuco. Six people were detained and two were beaten. (Public Communique from the Organizacion Mapuche Meli Wixan Mapu, July 15, posted on Santiago Indymedia)

For about two hours on July 20, some 15 Mapuche activists from the Rucananco community in Arauco province, Biobio region, blocked Arauco governor Nestor Matamala Pena and nine other officials from leaving the scene of a meeting with Mapuche representatives in Rucananco. The activists–who apparently had their faces covered–also smashed windshields and caused other damage to the four vehicles of the governor’s entourage. The action was said to be motivated by community opposition to a mining project being developed on Mapuche land. The governor was able to leave after Carabineros agents arrived at the scene. (Diario El Sur, Chile, July 2, 25; Terra Chile, July 20)

See also WW4 REPORT #95

See our last post on the Mapuche struggle.