Four buildings were set on fire and a police and press convoy ambushed over the weekend after President Sebastian Piñera announced on Thursday that forest fires in Chile’s Araucanía region were being treated as acts of terrorism.
One of the buildings targeted was the home of Mapuche leader Jose Santos Millao’s parents. The fire took place when the family was attending the funeral of one of seven firefighters killed in the blaze that is ravaging Carahue. The fire appears deliberate (the house in question had no electricity), but authorities are still not sure who is to blame.
The police retaliated almost immediately, however, as over 200 riot police stormed the Cacique Jose Guiñón community, Mapuche Chief Jose Cariqueo told NGO The Citizen Observatory.
Another building destroyed over the weekend was ‘La Marina,’ an estate belonging to retired military officer, Juan Pablo Torres.
Luis Rosas, the house’s caretaker, told local media that five armed and hooded youths forced him and his wife to remove the majority of possessions from the house in Ercilla before they doused it in fuel and set it on fire. This is the seventh house set on fire in the area since Dec. 30.
After that incident on Saturday night with ‘La Marina’ police were brought in to patrol the area.
Another hooded group, possibly the same responsible for the fire at ‘La Marina,’ ambushed a convoy of police and press vehicles on Sunday morning. The exchange of fire lasted for nine hours but no one was injured. Police think that the firearms used in this incident are the same as some that were stolen from a property in September.
This recent group of suspected arson attacks follow accusations from both the President and Chile’s Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter that the militant Mapuche organization Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM) are to blame for the forest fires that started.
“CAM, I understand, claimed responsibility for an attack against a helicopter (in the Araucanía Region on Dec 30, 2011) which was used to put out the fire and not long after there were many fires. The pieces are finally starting to come together,” Hinzpeter said.
CAM is known for arson attacks in an ongoing attempt to recover territory taken from the indigenous Mapuche during the Pinochet era.
While government officials point the finger at Mapuche militants, firefighters suspect some of the 83 separate fires in the region may also be the result of (legal and illegal) charcoal burning.