Mapuche Activists Enter Fifth Week of Hunger Strike
Four Mapuche prisoners have been on a hunger strike for 35 days at the Angol Detention Center, in the Araucanía region.
ARAUCANÍA — The young men have apparently lost a dozen kilograms, suffering from physical deterioration and barely able to stand up. However, they show no signs of giving up their commitment. They continue with their hunger strike, fighting tooth and nail, while refusing hospital treatment.
Daniel Levinao Montoya, Paulino Levipan Coyán, Rodrigo Montoya Melinao, and Eric Montoya Montoya are currently calling for the annulment of their sentences, the release of all Mapuche political prisoners, the demilitarization of their land in Chile’s south, an end to the use of protected witnesses in Mapuche cases, and the return of ancestral land to indigenous communities.
They were sentenced to 11 years in prison for the murder of three policemen and illegal possession of firearms in 2011.
This is the third hunger strike to be carried out by Mapuche activists in three years, all pursuing the same objective: the abolition of Pinochet-era anti-terrorist legislation which redefines “terrorism” to include property violence or attacks on corporate employees and allows for the use of anonymous witnesses to convict suspected terrorists. Abuses in the application of this law have been denounced, particularly against Mapuche community members. The sentences, accused of being discriminatory and racist, are sometimes pronounced without any proof.
The so-called “Mapuche conflict” has been an important issue in Chile ever since the return to democracy permitted the Mapuche community members to engage in civil action. However, their claims have been ignored and marginalized by the government for the last twelve years.
Last Monday, the court rejected a request for access to what they considered sacred land for ritual purposes. The communities also requested an end to the logging of trees in the area by private companies.
“The resolution ignores the existence of Ngen Mapu Kintuante (the spiritual protector of Mapuche lands) when it says the land does not qualify as indigenous,” Mapuche Chief Juana Kuante said. “It upholds the law of private property without recognizing that our communities have used this ceremonial space for generations.”
As Mapuche activists take more and more media actions, their cause more frequently appears on the international arena. Human Rights organizations have started taking an interest in it during the 2010 first hunger strikes. The Chilean government had no choice but to reconsider this issue, as shown by the construction of a new house for lonko Curinao.
“We hope the government listens to our demands, finds a solution and declares null the judgment of the brothers who remain unjustly accused and excessively sentenced,” said Nibaldo Huenuman, a Mapuche leader.
The outcome of the hunger strikes remains uncertain. There is still a long way before a complete recognition of the Mapuche community’s rights.