Chile: thousands march for indigenous rights

Thousands marched in Santiago on Oct. 15 to demand respect for the rights of Chile’s indigenous peoples—the Mapuches in the south, Aymara speakers in the north, and the Pascuenses (Rapa Nui) of Easter Island. The march, sponsored by the Meli Wixan Mapu Organization, the JosĂ© Guiñón communities, the community of Wente Winkul Mapu and the Temukuikui Autonomous Mapuche Community, also demanded the release of four Mapuche prisoners who had been on hunger strike in the southern city of Angol for 50 days. Media estimates for participation ranged from 3,000 to 7,000.

As regularly occurs in Chile, near the end of the march carabineros militarized police attacked the protesters with tear gas and water cannons. According to the Associated Press wire service, the police were responding to about 100 hooded youths who joined the march and began vandalizing banks, while the correspondent from the Mexican daily La Jornada indicated that the police attacks may have begun without provocation.

The march took place on a national holiday celebrating the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in October 1492. “We have nothing to celebrate,” Mapuche spokesperson Natividad Llanquileo told reporters. The Mapuches resisted the Spanish for some 300 years but were defeated militarily in the late nineteenth century and were forced into the southern region of AraucanĂ­a. They continue to struggle to regain ancestral land; these struggles have intensified over the past few years and have been met with government repression.

The four Angol hunger strikers, who began fasting on Aug. 27, were moved to a hospital in Concepción on Oct. 11, but they asked to be returned to Angol in order to be closer to their communities. A local court granted the request for three of the prisoners—Daniel Levinao, Paulino Levipán and Rodrigo Montoya—on Oct. 18; the fourth, Erick Montoya, was to stay in the hospital pending a medical report. Five other Mapuche prisoners had been on a liquids-only hunger strike in the city of Temuco since Oct. 1, demanding to be moved to join the other strikers in Angol. They reported harassment by the prison authorities, who they said would bring them food to tempt them to eat, and on Oct. 19 they intensified the hunger strike by refusing liquids as well as solid food. (AP, Oct. 15, via Calgary Times, Canada; LJ, Oct. 16, from correspondent; AFP, Oct. 18, via Radio Nederland; Radio Bío Bío, Oct. 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct 21.