Chile: Mapuche youth seize cathedral

On Oct. 5, a group of seven Mapuche indigenous students from the Frontier University in Temuco, Chile—on hunger strike since Sept. 29—began an occupation of the Temuco cathedral. Another two hunger strikers did not participate because they were hospitalized on Oct. 4. The action was the latest in a series of protests started at least three weeks earlier by some 120 students demanding repairs to the Las Encinas Mapuche student residence, where they live, and autonomy in its administration. Shortly after the occupation at the cathedral began, agents of the Carabineros Special Forces (militarized police) violently removed the Mapuche protesters from the site. Agronomy engineering student and hunger striker Maria Luisa Igaiman, her health already weakened from the fast, was especially roughed up by the agents. The removal of the protesters was apparently ordered by the cathedral’s bishop, Msgr. Manuel Camilo Vial, and by the regional government. (Pulsar/Mapuexpress, Oct. 7 via Santiago Indymedia; Adital, Brazil, Oct. 5)

On Oct. 6, the students ended their hunger strike after the government of Socialist president Ricardo Lagos agreed to begin the necessary repairs to Las Encinas by March 2006, using special emergency funding, and to assign regular funds for maintenance starting in 2007. The government will provide alternate group housing sites for the students while the renovations take place. Deputy Planning Secretary and Indigenous Policy Coordinator Jaime Andrande also pledged to open a dialogue with Chile’s indigenous students to look at establishing a student housing policy. (Radio Universidad de Chile, Oct. 6; El Mostrador, Santiago, Oct. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 9

See our last post on the Mapuche struggle.