Interior Minister called for formal grilling over Araucanía conflict

By Sam Edwards
Published On : Mon, Jul 14th, 2014

Opposition to question government’s handling of ‘intolerable’ violence in the region amid growing tensions between indigenous activists and landowners.

Rodrigo Peñailillo surrounded by journalists
Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo is the subject of a formal interpellation at the hands of opposition parliamentarians over his handling of the Araucanía conflict. Photo via Gobierno de Chile

Conservative parliamentarians voted unanimously Monday to call Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo before Congress for a formal grilling over his handling of the Araucanía conflict which they claim is escalating quickly under his watch.

Peñailillo must now appear before Congress for the interpellation — a formal accountability mechanism which is non-binding — to answer questions on government policy in the region which has seen numerous incidents of violence in recent months as tensions escalate between indigenous Mapuche activists and local landowners engaged in land disputes.

Leading the questioning will be deputy for the Araucanía Region José Manuel Edwards of the center-right National Renewal (RN) party who claims Peñailillo’s governance has seen the security worsen dramatically.

“The situation of violence [in the Araucanía Region] is absolutely intolerable for a country which has the rule of law,” Edwards told press after the vote. “The minister must understand the region’s concern for what is going on and the lack of solutions. We want to see goals, deadlines and agreements so we can resolve this conflict which has dragged on for so many years.”

The motion needed only 40 votes from the 120-strong Chamber of Deputies to pass but its approval was in doubt until the final hour after more progressive elements of the opposition threatened to vote against the measure. Ultimately, however, the breakaway right-leaning Evópoli and Amplitud parties got behind the measure and it passed with 45 votes in favor, 52 against and one abstention.

The interpellation has been severely criticized by the governing Nueva Mayoría who voted along party lines against what government spokesman Álvaro Elizalde last week dubbed a “media show” tactic from the “old” and “obstructionist” right.

While it is Peñailillo who will be under the spotlight in a fortnight’s time many of the questions will likely examine the performance of Francisco Huenchumilla in his role as regional governor of the Araucanía — a post the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party called on him to resign from Sunday.

Huenchumilla — himself of Mapuche descent — has been a near permanent fixture in the press since he took office in March and one day later made a historic apology on behalf of the state to both indigenous groups whose land was appropriated and the European immigrants brought in to farm the territory in a hostile and tense environment.

Since then his decision to meet with several Mapuche prisoners on hunger strike then Celestino Córdova — the only person convicted of a 2013 fatal arson attack on elderly landowners — has angered local campaign groups such as the Association for Victims of Rural Violence (Avvru) and Alianza figures alike.

While Edwards said Monday he would not ask for Huenchumilla’s resignation during the interpellation, Dep. Gustavo Hasbún left the door open, telling press the decision to demand the Araucanía governor’s dismissal would depend on the outcome of the questions lodged against Peñailillo.

The interpellation will be held in Congress the morning of July 24.

Source: The Santiago Times

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