Chile: Mapuche prisoners hospitalized

On Nov. 7 Chilean authorities suddenly moved prisoners José Huenchunao and Patricia Troncoso Robles to the hospital in Angol in Region IX, apparently because of the effects of a 28-day hunger strike. Along with three other prisoners—José Millalen, Jaime Marileo and Hector Llaitul—Huenchunao and Troncoso started an open-ended hunger strike on Oct. 10 to demand the release of more than 20 indigenous Mapuche activists they consider political prisoners; an end to the militarization of the traditional Mapuche territories; and an end to repression.

As of Nov. 8 the authorities hadn’t released information on Huenchunao and Troncoso’s condition. Huenchunao, a Mapuche, suffers from chronic gastritis and has lost about 12 kilograms. Troncoso, a non-Mapuche supporter, may have been weakened by three previous hunger strikes. She carried out a fast of about 30 days in 2005 and then a 63-day strike, along with three other prisoners, from Mar. 13 to May 14 in 2006. The four prisoners resumed the strike for one week in May 2006 but suspended the action when legislators agreed to consider a bill allowing conditional release for the prisoners—a bill the Senate ended up voting down in September 2006.

The Mapuche prisoners charge that they are not treated impartially by the judicial system as they try to fight against privatization and other neoliberal policies in their traditional territories. The government of Socialist president Michelle Bachelet is pursuing economic policies inherited from the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, according to hunger striker Hector Llaitul, who called for solidarity actions. There have been protests in Chile, and on Oct. 26 activists demonstrated at the Chilean embassies in Geneva and London. (REDCHEM, Nov. 8; RebeliĂłn, Nov. 8)

The strikers’ hospitalization came as Santiago was preparing to host the Nov. 8-10 17th Iberian-American Summit, in which 20 heads of state from Latin America and Europe called for increased cooperation between Latin America and the Iberian nations. Also in Santiago, at the same time activists were holding a “people’s summit,” the Summit for Friendship and Integration of the Latin-American People, which concluded on Nov. 10 with Bolivian president Evo Morales, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage addressing a crowd of about 3,000. Ortega suggested that the Organization of American States (OAS) might be replaced by an organization of Latin American and Caribbean states. Chavez’s speech included an unscheduled phone call from Cuban president Fidel Castro, who is on leave for health reasons. (Santiago Times, Nov. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 11

See our last posts on Chile and the Mapuche struggle.