Chile: Mapuche resume hunger strike

On May 19, four Mapuche rights activists resumed their open-ended hunger strike at the Hernan Enriquez hospital in Temuco, in southern Chile’s Region IX (Araucania). Mapuche activists Juan Patricio Marileo Saravia, Florencio Jaime Marileo Saravia and Juan Carlos Huenulao Lienmil and non-Mapuche supporter Patricia Troncoso Robles began their fast on March 13 in Angol prison; they suspended it on May 14 in the Temuco jail after Chilean legislators promised to consider a bill to allow their supervised release. As part of the deal, the four prisoners were transferred from the Temuco jail to the hospital. The four are serving 10-year prison sentences imposed under the terms of a widely criticized anti-terrorism law.

The four activists had agreed to suspend the strike on the condition that the legislature take up a bill on their behalf no later than May 17. That deadline passed with the bill under consideration by the legislature’s first commission of human rights, but not yet presented to the full legislature. The prisoners were also angered by the text of the bill, which would allow them conditional release but require them to renounce violence; they object to that because they say they have not engaged in any violence. (Diario El Gong, Temuco, May 19)

“Once more as has happened historically, the Chilean government has gone back on its word, betraying us in our good will and answering us with tricks,” the four prisoners wrote in a May 19 communique. “We call on all the Mapuche people, the Chilean people and the peoples of the world to resume the struggle and not relax your arms since we are resuming the strike as of today, May 19, 2006, for an indetermined time, putting our lives at risk to win the freedom we deserve.” The four activists insist they are innocent: “the charges against us are lies,” they wrote in the communique. (Urgent Communique to the World, May 19)

Legislative deputy Eduardo Diaz of the Christian Democrat (CD) party said sectors within the legislature had “torpedoed” the accord and were to blame for the renewed hunger strike. Diaz also accused the government of Socialist president Michelle Bachelet of not doing enough to press for a solution: “In other cases, we have seen ministers personally playing a role in Congress to exert pressure around themes that interest them, something which has not happened here.” Diaz added that “the Mapuches feel and have been discriminated against, and it is essential to react rapidly, first making the necessary efforts to stop this urgent conflict, and second, implementing in-depth solutions that lead to an end once and for all to the extreme poverty of the Mapuche campesinos here in our South.” Diaz noted that Mapuches face disproportionate punishment compared to other Chileans: “Someone who burns a field in the south gets a prison sentence twice as long as someone who burns the bleachers in the National Stadium in Nunoa,” he said. (Resumen Latinoamericano, May 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 21

See our last posts on Chile and the Mapuche struggle.