Chile: Mapuche prisoners start latest hunger strike

As of Aug. 31 six Mapuche activists were on hunger strike to protest what they consider the Chilean government’s repression of struggles by the indigenous group, the country’s largest. The strikers include five prisoners in Angol, in the southern region of Araucan√≠a, and Pascual Catrilaf, a machi (healer and spiritual authority) who lives in Temuco, also in Araucan√≠a. A seventh striker, Mewlen Huencho, a werk√©n (spokesperson) for the Mapuche Territorial Alliance, ended her six-day fast at the Santiago offices of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after speaking to UNICEF officials on Aug. 31.

The five prisoners in Angol are from the Wente Winkul Mapu community in Ercilla commune, Araucan√≠a, a village where an agent of the carabineros militarized police was fatally wounded in April. They began their open-ended hunger strike on Aug. 27 to protest what they called the “discriminatory, racist and political” prison sentences of 11 years and eight months that two of the prisoners– Paulino Levip√°n Coy√°n and Daniel Levinao Montoya–were given by court in Angol on Aug. 13. They had been convicted of attempted homicide and illegal possession of firearms in an attack on carabineros near Chequenco, Araucan√≠a, on Nov. 2, 2011; they are appealing the conviction.

In addition to demanding the annulment of the sentences for Levip√°n and Levinao, the hunger strikers called for adherence by the Chilean government to International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, which protects the rights of indigenous peoples; an end to the use of protected witnesses in Mapuche cases; an end to raids on Mapuche communities; and the release of all political prisoners and the return of indigenous lands to the communities.

Mewlen Huencho began fasting on Aug. 25 after sitting in at the UNICEF office for a month to promote demands for the international organization to denounce police attacks on women, children and the elderly in Chile; the sit-in was precipitated by a July 23 raid by carabineros on the Temucuicui community in Araucanía in which two children were shot with pellets and badly injured. Huencho suspended her hunger strike after Tom Olsen, UNICEF Representative in Chile, promised to go to Ercilla and meet with Mapuche authorities the afternoon of Sept. 3.

Machi Pascual Catrilaf began his hunger strike in solidarity with the other protests on Aug. 27.

Mapuche activists charge that that the government uses excessive force and unjust applications of criminal law to repress their actions, with which they seek the return of ancestral lands now being exploited by timber companies and other businesses. Some 34 Mapuche prisoners participated in a liquids-only hunger strike in the summer and fall of 2010, some for more than two months, and four Mapuche prisoners fasted for almost three months in the spring of 2011. Maricheweu International, a group in solidarity with Mapuche struggles, says letters to “convey your support and encouragement to the hunger-strikers, and to request information on their state of health” can be sent to UNICEF’s Thierry Lemaresquier (infochile@unicef.org) and the Angol prison authorities (bessie.castillo@gendarmeria.cl). (TeleSUR, Aug. 28; Maricheweu International Aug. 29, Aug. 31; Pa√≠s Mapuche, Chile, Aug. 27, Aug. 30; Terra, Peru, Aug. 13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 2.