Chile: Mapuche activist continues fast

As of Jan. 27 Chilean activist Patricia Troncoso Robles had rejected an Interior Ministry offer to ease her prison conditions if she would end the hunger strike she started 109 days earlier to demand the release of 20 indigenous Mapuche prisoners and an end to the military’s presence in Mapuche territories. Troncoso’s father, Roberto Troncoso, and a mediator, Conference of Bishops president Alejandro Goic, said the government offered a transfer to a prison work and study center, with Sunday releases after six months at the center. But Troncoso Robles demanded an immediate easing of conditions for Mapuche prisoners Jaime Marileo and Juan Millalen and a resolution of the prisoners’ situation by March.

Troncoso is a non-Mapuche supporter of the Mapuche cause who in 2001 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “terrorism” in connection with a fire set at a ranch in southern Chile. On Jan. 23 she was transferred to the emergency room of the Herminda Martin Hospital in Chillan, Biobio region; she was severely malnourished after having lost 30 kilos. In the hospital she has been fed intravenously, against her will. The hospital’s Dr. Renato Acevedo Vargas said he was “shocked” by Troncoso’s situation, including heavy security and an initial refusal to allow visits by her father. “I never thought the Chillan hospital would one day be turned into a high-security prison,” he told the

Activists and human rights groups have pressed the government of Socialist president Michelle Bachelet to act on Troncoso’s case. On Jan. 24 about a dozen leaders of nonprofit organizations and leftist parties occupied the office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Santiago for almost two hours to back Troncoso’s demands. About 20 people stood outside supporting the occupiers, who included Troncoso’s doctor, Berna Castro; Tomas Hirsch of the Humanist Party; and Eduardo Artes, first secretary of the Chilean Communist Party. On Jan. 25 in Paris Amnesty International (AI), the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and other organizations accused Bachelet’s government of indifference.

The Mapuches make up about 6.6% of Chile’s population of 16 million. The government’s first effort to resolve centuries of conflicts over possession of the Mapuches’ traditional territories came in 2006 when the National Corporation for Indigenous Development returned some 504,000 hectares to Mapuche communities. According to a recent poll by the daily Tercera, about 80% of Chileans feel the country is in debt to its indigenous peoples. (La Nación, Chile, Feb. 24 from UPI; Univisión, Jan. 25 from AFP; Radio Cooperativa, Chile, Feb. 27; Radio Universidad de Chile, Feb. 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 27

See our last post on Chile and the Mapuche struggle.