SANTIAGO – A Chilean military court handed down a two-year suspended sentence on Friday to a policeman who fatally shot a Mapuche Indian activist in the back during a protest in January 2008.
The verdict means that Cpl. Walter Ramirez, a member of the Carabineros militarized police who remains on active duty, will serve no jail time.
Matias Catrileo, 22, died on Jan. 3, 2008, when Carabineros opened fire on him and other Mapuches who were trying to occupy a ranch in La Araucania, a region located some 670 kilometers (416 miles) south of Santiago.
The military judges said Ramirez acted in legitimate self defense and in accord with a court order instructing police to protect the ranch. They found the corporal guilty only of disproportionate use of force, noting that he was armed with a submachine gun while the Mapuches were carrying shotguns.
Military prosecutor Jaime Pinto Aparicio had sought a 10-year sentence for Ramirez.
While attorneys representing Catrileo’s family can appeal the verdict, Ramirez’s lawyer, Gaspar Calderon, has already announced he will ask a higher court to overturn the conviction.
Catrileo was one of three Mapuches to die in police hands over the last seven years in La Araucania, where traditional Indian communities co-exist uneasily with large-scale agriculture and forestry.
The 650,000-strong Mapuche nation, Chile’s largest indigenous group, is demanding constitutional recognition of its identity, rights and culture, as well as ownership of the tribe’s traditional territory.
Their struggle to reclaim ancestral lands from farmers and timber companies led last year to the deaths of two Indian activists in confrontations with police, while a number of Mapuche militants are facing charges for attacks on cargo trucks.
The United Nations and organizations such as Amnesty International have voiced concerns about Chile’s treatment of the Mapuches.
On Monday, Matias Catrileo’s sister staged a protest during the ceremony in Santiago inaugurating the Museum of Memory, created to honor the victims of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Augusto Pinochet. EFE