Chile: water activist to be jailed for ‘slander’

On April 7 a court in La Ligua, in Chile's Petorca province, Valparaíso region, convicted agronomist Rodrigo Mundaca of slander and sentenced him to 541 days in prison for accusing former government minister Edmundo Pérez Yoma of water usurpation. Mundaca, the secretary of the Movement in Defense of Water, Land and the Environment (Modatima), also faces a fine. According to current Modatima spokesperson Luis Soto, the court's decision won't stop the group's activist work. He said Modatima would take the case "to the Valparaíso Appeals Court, and if we aren't successful there, we'll go to the Supreme Court."

Pérez Yoma is a Christian Democratic Party (PDC) politician who served twice as defense minister under former president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1994-2000) and then as interior minister in the first term (2006-2010) of current president Michelle Bachelet. He owns 90% of an agricultural firm, Sociedad Agrícola El Cóndor Ltda. Modatima says the company has taken water illegally from the Los Ángeles estuary for its crops, depriving local farmers and small businesses of the resource, which is scarce in much of Chile. The group has made the same accusation against Agrícola San Ignacio, owned by Ignacio Alamos, and Agrícola Iguana, owned by Marcelo Trivelli. Apparently Pérez Yoma sued for slander after Mondaca aired the charges on CNN Chile during a 2012 interview. (El Ciudadano, Chile, April 5; Radio Universidad de Chile, April 8; Modatima communiqué, April 9)

In other news, after a year and a half of imprisonment on charges filed under Chile's "antiterrorist law," six indigenous Mapuche have been cleared by the Oral Criminal Court in Temuco, the capital of Araucanía region. José Antonio Ñirripil, Eliseo Ñirripil Cayupán, Elvis Millán Colicheu, Jorge Cayupán Ñirripil, Cristian Alexis Cayupán Morales and Daniel Canio Tralcal were accused of setting a fire at the Brasil estate in Vilcún community in September 2009; several of them were also charged with robbery with intimidation. At one point they held a hunger strike to demand their release.

Three other Mapuche prisoners began a hunger strike in the Angol prison on April 10 to push for a review of their sentences and a pardon for a fourth prisoner, José Mariano Llanca, who is terminally ill. The three strikers, Cristian Pablo Levinao Melinao, Luis Humberto Marileo Cariqueo and Leonardo Eusebio Quijón Pereira, were sentenced to 10 years in prison for homicide and robbery with intimidation. They previously held a hunger strike in October 2012. (Adital, Brazil, April 11)

The Argentina-based organization Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) and Argentine human rights activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, winner of the 1980 Nobel peace price, have sent a letter to Chilean president Bachelet expressing their concern about the threat to Mapuche communities from what they called "the multiplication of investment projects of an industrial character, such as hydroelectric plants and the salmon industry's fish farming." SERPAJ and Pérez Esquivel praised the changes Bachelet promised as she started her new term in office on March 11, and they predicted "an historic significance for your government if you encourage the application of the Mapuche communities' right to [their] territories." (MapuExpress, Chile, April 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 13.