Two Mapuche brothers from Chile fled their home country for Bolivia capital La Paz on Wednesday (November 13) to seek political asylum. Hugo and Alexi Melinao, members of Chile's indigenous Mapuche community of Rayen Mapu, are alleging abuse by Chilean authorities.
The two Melinaos are the brothers of the late Mapuche activist Rodrigo Melinao, who was found dead with gunshot wounds to the chest on August 6, 2013. His body was discovered in the rural area of Ercilla in Chile's Araucania Region, but the circumstances surrounding his death are still unclear. The Mapuche have often clashed with police in land rights disputes and some accused police officers of Melinao's murder. Police have denied any involvement and Melinao's funeral turned violent as members of the community clashed with police.
Hugo Melinao explained the community's struggles. "For years we have asked for our rights to be respected, above all the rights over land and in these last two decades four Mapuches have already been murdered, demanding their right to the land and this last person was my brother Rodrigo Melinao Lican, who was murdered on August 6, 2013," he said.
The Melinao brothers had made an earlier asylum request at Venezuela's Embassy in Chile. They said an unidentified human rights organisation in Chile helped them flee to Bolivia. "When I was with some animals I have in the porch, they arrived in a black SUV. They were hooded paramilitaries and they told me they were going to cut my throat, they were going to kill me and I had to escape because I'm scared, I'm very scared," said Hugo's brother, Alexi Melinao.
Standing outside Bolivia's Palace of Government, Hugo Melinao held a formal letter, on behalf of his community, requesting an audience with Morales. He also explained that Alexis had not been offered protection in Chile. "We urgently left Chile yesterday. We arrived to Bolivia in the afternoon hoping a Bolivian authority is able to receive us and can hear our request for asylum, especially for my brother (Alexi Melinao) because we know what can happen from from one day to another in Chile. There has been great repression towards Mapuche indigenous recently," added Hugo Melinao.
According to local media, Chilean authorities have not allowed Rodrigo Melinao's family to have access to information on police investigations into his murder. Before his death at age twenty-six, Rodrigo Melinao had been sentenced to five years in prison for setting a forest on fire and 541 days for attacking a bus and a truck. He had been in hiding before his death and claimed that a judge was persecuting Mapuche defendants.
Crippled by poverty, the Mapuche, or "Earth People," lost lands in the early 19th Century to the newly formed states of Chile and Argentina. In recent times activists have been accused by authorities of mounting arson attacks on trucks, forestry machinery and crops in a battle to reclaim ancestral lands in Araucania Region.
Chilean police action against the Mapuche has drawn criticism from some human rights groups, who accuse authorities of discrimination and using undue force.
Source: ITN Source