Chile: Mapuches block roads to protest court decision

Members of the Huilliche indigenous group blocked the highway between Valdivia and Paillaco in southern Chile’s Los RĂ­os region the morning of Sept. 28, burning rubbish and setting up barricades to protest a Sept. 21 Supreme Court decision denying them access to a sacred site. A communiquĂ© from an organization calling itself the Huilliche Aynil Leufu Mapu Mo Resistance claimed responsibility for the action, which was also in support of a hunger strike that five Mapuche prisoners in Angol, AraucanĂ­a region, began on Aug. 27. The Huilliche are a sub-group of the Mapuche, the largest indigenous group in Chile.

The Huilliches claim they should have access to the Ngen Mapu Kintuante area in RĂ­o Bueno commune; they say the area is a ceremonial religious center for them. The Valdivia Appeals Court upheld the Huilliche claim, but a five-member panel of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the site was on private property belonging to the Protestant minister Juan Heriberto Ortiz Ortiz. The court also found that the Huilliche community had occupied Ortiz’s land illegally. A group of masked people set fire to Ortiz’s house in June.

The conflict over the Ngen Mapu Kintuante area is part of a larger struggle by the Huilliches against three hydroelectric projects in the region which they say will violate their right to use ancestral lands that include important sacred sites. The first, the Central HidroelĂ©ctrica Rucatayo, opened earlier this month on the PilmaiquĂ©n River, despite resistance by the Huilliche communities; it is operated by the HidroelĂ©ctrica PilmaiquĂ©n S.A. company. Central HidroelĂ©ctrica Osorno, one of the other two projects, will flood the Kintuante area if it is built. (Soy Chile, Sept. 24;, Sept. 25; Radio BiobĂ­o, Chile, Sept. 22, Sept. 28; Noticias Terra Chile, Sept. 25)

Four of the five Mapuche prisoners who began fasting on Aug. 27 in Angol were still on hunger strike as of Sept. 29. The strikers–Daniel Leminao, Paulino Levipán, Rodrigo Montoya and Eric Montoya—are weak and have reportedly lost an average of 11 kilograms each. “They’re children, very young, they’re very thin,” said Manuel Andrade, a member of the Ethical Commission Against Torture (CECT). (Leminao is 18 years old and Levipán is 19; available sources did not give the ages of Rodrigo and Eric Montoya.) The strikers are demanding that the Supreme Court review and annul their sentences; other demands include an end to the use of militarization and “anti-terrorist” legislation against the Mapuches’ struggles for ancestral lands. Some 100 Mapuche activists and non-Mapuche supporters marched in Santiago the evening of Sept. 20 to demand the release of the four strikers. (Prensa Latina, Sept. 21, Sept. 29)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 30.