WEDNESDAY, 07 AUGUST 2013 15:35 | WRITTEN BY CHARLOTTE KARRLSSON-WILLIS
Young Mapuche activist found dead from gunshot wounds to the chest as violence between the indigenous protesters and police continues to worsen.
A Mapuche activist and fugitive was found dead Tuesday with gunshot wounds to the chest in the Araucanía Region, with some residents accusing police in his death.
A Mapuche boy lights candles during memorial for the death of a Mapuche activist killed in 2011. Photo by Sergio / Flickr
Rodrigo Elicer Melinao Licán, 26, was an indigenous Mapuche activist sentenced last year to five years and a day in prison for setting a forest fire and 541 days for attacking a bus and a truck. He had been in hiding since the court sentence, and claimed that the judge, Luis Chamorro, was persecuting Mapuche defendants.
Melinao’s body was found in the rural area of Ercilla, on land claimed by the local Mapuche but currently under police control. The body was apparently about 160 feet from the main road where the police regularly patrol. The killing comes amid escalating violence between the indigenous population in the southern Araucanía Region, stemming from historical territorial rights.
According to Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick, preliminary details show the fatal shots were fired at close range with a gun that contained a cartridge of lead pellets.
The context of the shooting and the location of the body have led many in Melinao’s community to accuse police of the murder. It has also prompted his family and community to doubt the efforts of the local officials to investigate the killing.
“This is a moment of great pain, my mother is shattered, Rodrigo left two children and one on the way, his wife is four months pregnant,” Hugo Melinao, brother of the victim told El Dínamo. "Tomorrow we will file a complaint against anyone responsible for the death of my brother, I have no confidence that the district attorney's office of Collipulli will resolve the case, as they are part of the system that has done this to the Mapuche people. The only thing that I ask is justice for Rodrigo."
As painful as this latest incident is for the Melinao family, not everyone is surprised.
"He was a fugitive, he had received a sentence of five years and one day, we knew that at some point this was going to happen,” Luis Melinao, the victim’s cousin, said. “There were direct threats from some Carabineros [Chilean uniformed police], they were looking for him and militarization here is evident, this is a rural area in which we are accustomed to living with the police."
Luis added that there are many questions to be asked in order to find out what really happened to his cousin.
“We aim our suspicions at the police, but there may also have been other subversive landowners or small groups [responsible],” he said.
The government reaches out
Chadwick, who has been on the forefront of the ongoing conflict between the Chilean government and Mapuche activists, expressed his condolences for the victim’s family and community and insisted the government will do its utmost to bring justice in the case.
“I regret deeply, on behalf of the government, the dramatic death of the villager, who was allegedly killed in the district of Ercilla, on a plot belonging to the Mapuche community,” Chadwick said Tuesday.
He added that there should be a “collaboration of all the police forces at the disposal of the public prosecutor,” in order to solve the case as soon as possible.
However, the minister emphasized that the claims against police and others are currently unfounded, as the investigation is only in preliminary stages. The case is currently being handled by Chile’s Investigative Police (PDI).
“We don't want to generate any hypothesis or conjecture,” Chadwick said. “The circumstances of this crime are not yet known and we only have a few witnesses who can give accounts of some facts.”
“So far everything that has been said is pure guesswork, pure rumors. We have to have respect for the family and patience to wait for the expert work of the police. Everything would indicate that it was a murder, but as I say these are preliminary investigations and must be confirmed by the district attorney who leads the case,” Chadwick added.
‘A lot of mistrust’
The family has asked a local priest, Francisco Millán, to be present during the investigations to try and prevent misconduct by the local and government officials.
Millán said the family made the request because there was “a lot of mistrust” toward police and the PDI.
“The relationships have really deteriorated,” he told El Mostrador. “The police have not performed very well, there is a lot of repression, a lot of arrogance.”
Much of that mistrust relates to earlier killings of Mapuche protesters by police. Alex Lemun, 17, was killed in November of 2002 during an eviction of Mapuche protesters by Marco Aurelio Treuer Heysen, the head of the local Carabineros at the time, and 25-year-old Jaime Facundo Mendoza Collío was killed by police in August, 2009.
Rodrigo Melinao’s death comes just a week after a U.N. expert condemned Chilean police and judiciary strategies to combat Mapuche land activists. He warned of increased conflict in the Araucanía Region from discriminatory persecution of the local Mapuche through the current anti-terrorism legislation. Minister Chadwick promptly defended the law, saying the expert did not accurately understand the terrorist situation Chile faces in the South.
Source: The Santiago Times