Five prisoners from Chile’s indigenous Mapuche group began a hunger strike on Oct. 1  in the city of Temuco in the southern Araucanía region, joining four Mapuche prisoners who have been on hunger strike in Angol, also in Araucanía, since Aug. 27. The Temuco strikers—Leonardo Quijón Pereira, Luis Marileo Cariqueo, Fernando Millacheo, Guido Bahamondes and Cristian Levinao–said they were protesting the conspiracy by the “state, the business owners and the large landowners to use the laws against us to keep us far from our families and loved ones.” The prisoners are asking to be moved to the Angol prison, which is closer to their homes, and are calling on the government to end the “humiliating and annoying searches the Gendarmerie of Chile [the prison authorities] carries out on relatives and friends who visit us in the prison.”
Although they are charged with or convicted of common crimes, the strikers consider themselves political prisoners who have been falsely accused or have been given disproportionately long sentences for political actions. The Mapuches, who represent about 4% of Chile’s total population and 87% of the indigenous population, are struggling to regain land that they say has taken from them illegally since the second half of the 19th century. (Prensa Latina, Oct. 5)
Leonardo Quijón and Luis Marileo, two of the strikers in Temuco, were arrested on Sept. 4 for the Sept. 1 killing of Héctor Gallardo Aillapán, a small farmer in Ercilla, in Malleco province in Araucanía. A youth was also arrested in connection with the crime, but his name wasn’t released because he is a minor. Quijon and Marileo deny involvement in Gallardo’s death and have offered to provide DNA samples on the condition that Luis Chamorro, the chief prosecutor in the city of Collipulli, be removed from the case. (Chamorro has a history of prosecutions of Mapuche activists and raids on Mapuche villages.) (Radio Biobío, Sept. 19)
Gallardo was killed during a robbery attempt at his brother’s house, where he was visiting. The three youths were identified by Gallardo’s brother, but it’s not clear how he identified them, since the killers had covered their faces with scarves. Quijón was charged with two crimes in 2009, when he was 17: participation in a confrontation with carabineros militarized police agents and the burning of two buses.
He was acquitted in both cases despite the government’s use of unidentified witnesses against him. Quijón was shot with pellets during the alleged confrontation with the carabineros. Representatives of three European organizations in solidarity with the Mapuches charged in an open letter on Sept. 20 this year that Quijón was hit with some 200 pellets in his leg and had still not received proper medical treatment, with the result that his immune system is compromised, “producing also other diseases that are life-threatening.”