Three Jailed Mapuche Indians Join Hunger Strike in Chile

SANTIAGO – Three Mapuche Indians being held at a prison in the southern Chilean city of Temuco have joined 35 of their comrades in a hunger-striking protest.

Maria Tralcal, spokeswoman for the jailed Mapuches, identified the new hunger strikers as Hugo Melinao, Cristian Levinao and Sergio Lican.

In a statement broadcast by Radio Cooperativa, Tralcal said the three Indians joined the protest Tuesday following a solidarity march by community activists from downtown Temuco, located 673 kilometers (420 miles) south of Santiago, to that city’s prison.

Some of the hunger strikers, who regard themselves as political prisoners, have been fasting at prisons in southern Chile since July 12 to demand that they not be tried under a draconian anti-terrorism law imposed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

That legislation allows the state to hold people for up to two years without charges, to restrict defense attorneys’ access to evidence and to use testimony from anonymous witnesses.

The hunger strikers are also demanding that they not be tried for the same charges in both civilian and military courts.

The spokeswoman for the Indians said the new protesters are from the southern town of Ercilla and had been isolated there for 12 days after being arrested earlier this month.

“The hunger strike is continuing and, due to the government’s intransigence in resolving the matter, three more brothers have joined the (protest) measure,” Tralcal said.

The new protesters were arrested on Sept. 15 by Carabineros (militarized police) in connection with an incident two months earlier in the community of Los Lolocos, where a small bus being used to provide services to a logging company was set on fire.

An attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike failed on Monday when the Indians were unable to secure assurances that the anti-terror law would not be applied in their cases.

Although President Sebastian Piñera’s administration promised not to apply the law in certain open cases, it said it could not make that pledge on behalf of all branches of government.

Meanwhile, a group of Indians remains holed up at the international headquarters of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago in solidarity with the Mapuches.

The Indians have demanded that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issue a pronouncement on the conflict, but he is refusing to comment on the matter while the offices of a U.N. body are being occupied.

For its part, ECLAC on Tuesday expressed its hope that a “rapid solution” can be found to the dispute and has offered to act in an advisory capacity.

The organization said in a statement that “despite the legal and legislative progress made in Latin America on the rights of indigenous peoples in the past few decades, there is still a significant lag in the implementation of those rights, and Chile is no exception in this regard.”

“We express the hope that the parties may arrive at a rapid solution that will avoid the loss of human life,” ECLAC said, referring to the hunger strikers.

In recent years, Mapuche militants have been torching vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a campaign to reclaim ancestral lands from the agribusiness concerns and forest products companies that now control much of the southern region of Araucania.

Chile’s government is currently holding more than 100 Mapuches – most of them still awaiting trial – for politically motivated crimes against property.

In addition to demanding the scrapping of the anti-terror act, the hunger strikers are calling for the “demilitarization” of Araucania, heartland of the 650,000-strong Mapuche nation, which lost 95 percent of its land during a “pacification” campaign at the end of the 19th century. EFE

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