Chile: two Mapuche hunger strikers are hospitalized

Two Chilean Mapuche prisoners, Ramón Llanquileo Pilquimán and José Huenuche Reimán, were admitted to a hospital in Victoria, Malleco province, Araucanía region, on May 26 after 72 days of a liquids-only hunger strike. Corrections authorities denied that the prisoners’ lives were in danger; Araucanía health secretary Gloria Rodríguez said “the Mapuches are being monitored permanently,” without offering an opinion on their condition.

Two other Mapuche prisoners, Héctor Llaitul Carillanca, Jonathan Huillical Méndez, are also on hunger strike; the four strikers have each lost about 20 kilograms (44 pounds). They are “very weak” and their relatives are concerned about their health, according to Millaray Garrido, Huenuche’s wife.

The four prisoners, who are held in the Angol prison, started the strike on March 15 to protest their treatment in a “terrorism” case relating to a fire and an attack on a prosecutor, Mario Elgueta, in Arauco province in October 2008. All 17 defendants were acquitted of the terrorism charges on Feb. 22 this year, but the four hunger strikers were convicted of common crimes and given sentences of 20 to 25 years in prison. They say the trial was unfair because prosecutors used an unidentified witness and filed charges based on a harsh “antiterrorism” law that dates back to the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet and has been used to repress protests by the Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous group.

Chilean indigenous communities and parts of the political opposition consider the case a show trial set up by prosecutors, police agents and business people to get Mapuche leaders behind bars and stop their struggle to recover Mapuche land. (Adital, Brazil, May 25; La Tercera, Santiago, May 27

Solidarity with the hunger strikers was one of the themes of a large march in Santiago on May 28 whose main focus was opposition to the HidroAysén project, a plan to build a complex of five dams that environmentalists say would threaten fjords and valleys in the Patagonia region. Natividad Llanquileo, a spokesperson for the strikers, called on the protesters to participate in future demonstrations for Mapuche prisoners. The march also supported demands raised by university students and sexual minorities. (Radio Universidad de Chile, Santiago, May 28)

Note: In previous reports we gave Ramón Llanquileo’s name as “Llanaquileo,” following some of our sources.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 29.

See our last post on Chile and the Mapuche struggle.