Chile: Mapuche leaders demand autonomy

After a meeting on March 21 in Temuco, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Araucanía, indigenous leaders called for the rapid implementation of self-government for the Mapuche, the country’s largest indigenous group. The leaders also repeated their rejection of plans announced by the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera for an indigenous council, a consultation process and a special law for Araucanía. Piñera, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick and other officials made the proposals in January after an outbreak of violence in the region exacerbated a longstanding struggle between the Mapuche and settlers and forestry companies over lands that the Mapuche claim. Indigenous leaders responded to Piñera’s proposal by holding a summit at the Cerro Ñielol park in Temuco on Jan. 16 and forming a new alliance, the Mapuche Pact for Self-Determination.

The March 21 meeting was part of a series of meetings by the alliance. The leaders had planned to hold a march in Temuco the next day, but they postponed it until after their next meeting, scheduled for April 11, because of the sudden death of a famous lonko (local leader), Pascual Pichún, from a heart attack on March 20.

Pichún, who headed the community Antonio Niripil de Temulemu in Traiguen, near Temuco, was tried on an arson charge in 2004 under an “anti-terrorism” law from the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. He was convicted of making threats of terrorism and served four years in prison; the trial was the subject of a 2007 documentary, “El Juicio de Pascual Pichún.” Pichún insisted on his innocence and filed a complaint with the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) of the Organization of American States (OAS); his case is still open before the court. Some 500 mourners attended Pichún’s funeral on March 23. (Radio Bío Bío, Chile, March 22; Radio Universidad de Chile, March 22; AP, March 24, via Windsor Star, Canada)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 24.