Chile: Mapuche prisoners end hunger strike

Ten indigenous Mapuche prisoners in the city of Angol in Chile’s southern Araucanía region agreed late on Oct. 8 to end a liquids-only hunger strike protesting the use of Law No. 19.027, an “anti-terrorism” measure from the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, against indigenous activists. A total of 34 Mapuche prisoners in six locations had participated in the hunger strike, which started on July 12, but 24 of them ended their action on Oct. 2.

Jorge Huenchullán, the spokesperson for the 10 prisoners in Angol, said that they made the agreement because of the serious health conditions of some of the strikers even though “from the beginning we made it clear that [the agreement] wasn’t sufficient.” The Mapuche prisoners are serving long sentences under Law No. 19.027, which treats land occupations and attacks on the equipment or personnel of multinational companies as acts of terrorism; indigenous activists say they need to use these tactics to protest illegal seizures of their land.

It was not clear what concessions the government of right-wing president Sebastián Piñera had made during the eight hours of negotiations that secretaries of state held with six strikers in the Victoria hospital in Angol on Oct. 8, but officials made several conciliatory gestures that day as the negotiations were taking place. Piñera visited the heavily Mapuche area of Purén, and the government announced a proposal for the Constitution to recognize indigenous peoples. Presidential spokesperson Ena von Baer announced plans for a Nov. 2 meeting in Concepción between a government representative, Mapuche spokesperson Natividad Llanquileo and Catholic archbishop Ricardo Ezzati, who acted as a mediador during the hunger strike.

Congress recently passed a modification to the “anti-terrorism” law that exempted minors under the age of 18 and reduced the penalties for arson; the charges against the prisoners included setting fire to ranches and agricultural machinery. The government is also talking about improving roads, schools and health care in the Mapuche region.

The Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group, accounting for about 700,000 of the country’s 17 million inhabitants. (Prensa Latina, Oct. 9; La Tercera, Chile, Oct. 10; La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 10)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 10.

See our last posts on Chile and the Mapuche struggle.