Chile: Mapuche student killed in land conflict

Chilean agronomy student Matias Catrileo Quezada, an indigenous Mapuche, was shot dead early on the morning of Jan. 3 at the Fundo Santa Margarita estate, in Vilcun in the southern region of Araucania, presumably by police agents. He and other Mapuche activists were setting fire to bales of hay; the estate, which the local Mapuche community claims as part of its traditional ancestral lands, has been attacked several times in recent years. Activists told Bio-Bio radio station Catrileo was shot in the back with a machine gun.

On Jan. 4 groups of Mapuches protested Catrileo’s killing by blocking roads and setting some 30 fires in woods controlled by the Mininco forestry company. Thousands of Mapuches attended Catrileo’s funeral on Jan. 5; the police were absent, and masked marshals kept journalists 50 meters from the ceremony, asking them not to take photographs of the urn.

Col. Christian Yevenes, police prefect, in Cautin denied that the use of force was excessive in the Jan. 3 incident; he claimed two police agents had fired after being attacked with shotguns. Meanwhile, military prosecutor Jose Pinto, who is to investigate Catrileo’s death, detained police sergeant Walter Ramirez, who participated in the incident. Attorney Jose Aylwin, co-director of the Observatory of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told the press that Catrileo’s killing was “predictable” and “the result of the current government’s silence and complicity with the Carabineros,” referring to the government of Socialist president Michelle Bachelet and the militarized police.

On Jan. 3 a number of human rights organizations and individuals—including the Observatory, Amnesty International Chile, the Chilean Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (Accion) and retired judge Juan Guzman, who prosecuted former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990)—held a news conference to warn that prisoner Patricia Troncoso was near death after 82 days on hunger strike. Troncoso, a non-Mapuche supporter of the indigenous struggle, is serving a 10-year sentence on charges of terrorist arson. She said she was prepared to die to secure the release of Mapuche prisoners and to win the demilitarization of the indigenous communities. Four Mapuche prisoners participating with her in the hunger strike resumed eating after 60 days. (Inter Press Service, Jan. 3; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Jan. 5 from AP; Enlace Mapuche Internacional, Jan. 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 6

See our last post on Chile and the Mapuche struggle.