Chile: Mapuche activist found guilty of arson and murder
Development: On 20 February a court in the city of Temuco, the capital of Araucanía, found Celestino Córdova, a Mapuche activist, guilty of the murder of a retired couple in an arson attack on their home in January 2013, but did not, as the government had sought, define the incident as an act of terrorism.
Significance: There are long-simmering tensions in Chile’s southern regions of Araucanía and Bío-Bío, home to around 1.0m indigenous Mapuches, many of whom have long campaigned for the return of ancestral lands now occupied by farmers and timber companies. A radical faction of the Mapuches has attacked farms, while the police have also been accused of violent tactics such as shooting rubber bullets at Mapuche women and children. The court verdict, coming just weeks before the end of the current (conservative) administration, poses the question of how the incoming president Michelle Bachelet and her leftist Nueva Mayoría coalition government will handle the issue.
- On 4 January 2013, a group of hooded Mapuche activists approached a farm in Vilcún, outside Temuco, owned by an elderly couple, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mackay, scattering pamphlets about the death of a Mapuche activist shot in the back by a policeman, part of the cycle of violence in the region. In the ensuing clash, Luchsinger shot one of the intruders in the neck; they in turn set fire to the main house: both Luchsinger and Mackay died in the flames. The local court has now handed down an arson and murder verdict on a Mapuche, 27-year old Celestino Córdova. He had been arrested on the night of the attack with a shotgun wound to the neck, and the court considered this “strong evidence” that he had been one of the attackers. No-one else was arrested.
- Chile’s interior minister Andrés Chadwick welcomed the verdict but said he was disappointed that the court had not found the incident to be an act of terrorism, as the government prosecutor had requested. Doing so would have involved invoking a controversial anti-terrorism law dating back to the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) that is criticised by civil liberties groups. Michelle Bachelet used the law during her first presidency (2006-2010), but has said she will not do so in her second term, which starts on 11 March. The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson, who visited the region last year, called on the Chilean government to stop using the anti-terrorism law. He described the situation as “volatile” and warned that “it could turn into a major conflict unless urgent action is taken to deal with the acts of violence”.
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