Mapuche prisoners again on hunger strike despite Chile's promises of change


Four strikers demand review of their sentences, opposition to Counter Terrorism Act on the background · Chilean government says it is ready to study a ·"proposal in relation to the Act" · Presidential representative to Araucanía region asks for "forgiveness from the Mapuche people", admits Chile has an "outstanding debt" with them

Four Mapuche prisoners have been on hunger strike for a month in Angol requesting a review of their sentences. This new protest by the Mapuche indigenous movement is as usual being held against the background of its rejection of the Chilean Counter Terrorism Act, which has been in force since the days of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The context has however changed: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said during the 2013 election campaign that she was ready to stop enforcing this law in cases of territorial claims by indigenous peoples. And not even a month ago, and for the first time, a senior Chilean leader has apologized to the Mapuche.

The four prisoners (Juan Bernardo Licán Melinao, Luis Marielo, Leonardo Quijón and Cristian Melinao) are demanding the review of the processes by which they were condemned. Prisoners argue that protected witnesses were key to their sentences. They are also asking a pardon for another prisoner, José Mariano Llanca, which they say is suffering from a terminal illness, something the Chilean government denies. This is the first hunger strike that the Mapuche movement poses to Bachelet poses during her second presidential term.

Chilean Minister of Justice José Antonio Gómez yesterday met with relatives of the prisoners. The meeting ended without any agreement because, as relatives explained, the Chilean government does not accept the strikers' requests. The government holds it can not revise sentences, but instead says it is ready to "analize the Counter Terrorism Act" in order to move towards a "proposal in relation to the act". The Mapuche movement considers that the Chilean state uses the Counter Terrorism Act to suppress its activists.

Strikers' spokespeople say prisoners will keep their protest until the end.

Intendant apologizes to the Mapuche

And while the hunger strike has reached its first month, it is two months now since Intendant (presidential representative) of the Araucanía region Francisco Huenchumilla released this letter in which he asks for "forgiveness from the Mapuche people" because the State of Chile "dispossessed" them "of their lands". The Intendant also seeks forgiveness from "settlers who came from far, and their descendants", because "the State of Chile took them to the wrong place at an inopportune time". Recognition of this kind of Chile's original sin in the Mapuche territory goes even further: Huenchumilla admits that "the state got badly" to the area 130 years ago, a time where the "root our present ills" must be found.

For those reasons, the Intendant points out that Chile has an "outstanding debt" there. Huenchumilla says he will personally drive, along with the Chilean government, changes on the "fundamental issues", including "land, autonomy, recognition, and political participation". Also during the election campaign, Bachelet had said that "special autonomy statutes" for Chile's indigenous peoples would be approved.

Source: Nationalia

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