In Chile, on January 2, approximately 30 members of the Yupeco-Vilcun community attempted to occupy a farm located some 20 miles south-west of Temuco, the regional capital. There they were met by armed Carabineros, who fired on the activists, killing 22-year-old Universidad de la Frontera agronomy student Matías Valentín Catrileo Quezada.
Ongoing animosity between Chilean authorities and Mapuche groups took a bloody turn last week when Carabineros police reportedly shot and killed a university student in Region IX.
At approximately 6 a.m. on the morning of Thursday, January 2, some 30 members of the Yupeco-Vilcun community attempted to occupy a farm located some 20 miles south-west of Temuco, the regional capital. There they were met by armed Carabineros, who fired on the activists, killing 22-year-old Universidad de la Frontera agronomy student Matías Valentín Catrileo Quezada.
According to journalist Elias Paillan of the Observatory for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (ODPI), the group – which entered the Santa Margartia farm to perform a "symbolic act of land recovery" – fled the scene carrying the deceased student’s body.
"The Mapuche group took the body and they protected it. They didn’t want to hand it over to the Carabineros because they didn’t feel there were any guarantees," said Paillan.
Despite demands by the government that they hand over the body, the protestors initially refused, calling instead for Church involvement. Eventually, Villarica Bishop Sixto Parzinger agreed to meet with the Mapuche group. After several hours of tense negotiations, the protestors finally gave up Catrileo’s corpse.
The human rights group Amnesty International (AI) demanded a full investigation into the incident. "Throughout the course of the day we’ll be analyzing the circumstances," said Ana Carolina Cofre, a coordinator with AI’s Indigenous People’s Human Rights Team. "We’ve already sent the information off to London and for now, there’s no official response We can say that Amnesty International wants the rights of everyone involved in the incident to be guaranteed. We also demand a thorough investigation and expect the guilty parties to be brought to justice."
This is certainly not the first time AI has turned its attention to the plight of Chile’s Mapuche people. In its most recent annual report, the influential human rights group cited continued police abuse of Mapuches as one of the principal black marks on the country’s current human rights record. In July 2006, noted the report, Carabineros raided a Mapuche community in Malleco Province (Region IX) and then fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition on unarmed community members. As a pretext for the raid, police said they were in search of stolen animals. Six months later, police fired on Mapuche workers collecting their salaries in the city of Ercilla, also in Region IX. The attack injured six people, AI reported.
"This is sad situation, but one that’s not really surprising given how the Mapuche social movement has been criminalized in recent years," said ODPI head José Aylwin. "One manifestation of that has been the legal persecution of Mapuche leaders involved in protests to recover their lands. The result has been the jailing of those leaders under (Augusto Pinochet-era) anti-terrorism laws, which have been questioned by human rights organizations."
Coincidentally, both AI and ODPI first learned of the police killing during a joint press conference given Thursday morning in Santiago. Together the two groups met in AI’s Providencia office to report on an ongoing hunger strike initiated last October by Mapuche political prisoners in Region IX.
Four of the original five hunger strikers have had to give up their prolonged fast. Héctor Llaitul ended his strike just this past Monday. During his 81-day fast Llaitul lost approximately 50 pounds. Patricia Troncoso, also known as "la Chepa," is now the only remaining striker. Together the strikers are demanding the liberation of all Mapuche political prisoners
"There’s a permanent police presence in some indigenous communities. There are daily raids and the indiscriminate use of fire arms to repress what yes, in some cases can be violent protests. But in no way is that violence proportionally with what the state employs,"said Aylwin.
Contact Benjamin Witte – firstname.lastname@example.org Photo is from the Canal 13 TV station.