Special forces sent south in anticipation of ‘mass uprising’ by Mapuche.
By Laurie Blair - Published On : Thu, Oct 9th, 2014
Military police moves against roadblocks following alleged murder of Mapuche activist and gun battles between ‘criminals’ and local authorities.
Tuesday morning witnessed trucks laden with armored police vehicles and gun-toting special forces rolling down the wooded highways of south-central Chile in response to a wave of inter-communal violence following the death of a Mapuche activist.
The roads of Arauco province, Bío Bío Region, were being patrolled by a convoy of armed police hastily dispatched 650 miles from Santiago on Sunday night. They were sent to reinforce local law enforcement officers who have been overwhelmed by the latest outbreak of violent confrontations and roadblocks involving Mapuche communities, local landlords and illegal loggers.
Attempts by police to disperse roadblocks Sunday resulted in 13 officers injured. Two were rushed to the hospital, with one taking a bullet to the leg and another disfigured by a shotgun blast to the face.
However, Mapuche activists on Tuesday circulated pictures of the dozens of armored vehicles and 400 troops of the Police Special Operations Group (GOPE) dismantling makeshift barriers.
The spate of improvised barricades follows a confrontation on Oct. 1 between Mapuches and landholders on an estate in a village in the Araucanía Region. Mapuche sources claim a peaceful occupation of their ancestral property was underway when Mapuche José Mauricio Quintriqueo Huaiquimil was killed after being run over by a farm worker on a tractor.
The suspect, José Cañete, has since been detained by police. The leader of the local Nilpe community, Enrique Llanquileo, gave his version of events to local radio:
“[Cañete] got on the tractor…he ran him over two, three times. It was murder,” Llanquileo said.
Locals responded with various acts of destruction, including setting several timber trucks ablaze. Tensions were stoked even further when Mapuche villagers Patricio Queipul and Hugo Melinao were detained on Oct. 3 by police for their role in the arson attacks, with the latter transferred to local hospital for a bullet wound in the leg.
Following Huaiquimil’s funeral Sunday, Temucuicui community leader Jorge Huenchullán anticipated a “mass uprising” by Mapuche communities.
“This is a reaction by Mapuche communities in the face of an empty rhetoric of commitment and territorial devolution. We don’t want to be in this situation, but the state has forced us by not taking our demands into consideration,” Huenchullán said.
“Here, when the communities mobilize, it’s for the restoration of lands…[but] when various governments come here all they talk about is development, entrepreneurship, poverty and delinquency,” he added.
However, Arauco Province Governor Humberto Toro condemned the violence and suggested that external, radical elements were behind it — but he denied that many of the confrontations were related to ethnic conflict.
“We’re working with the [Mapuche] communities and we hope to soon reach an agreement. Criminal activities are a very different thing and are related to illegal deforestation. It’s a lucrative business, and those responsible are using the Mapuche cause to carry out their thefts. They close the roads and take the wood from nearby,” Toro said.
His words were echoed by Bío Bío Regional Governor Rodrigo Díaz who claimed that the road closures only began following new restrictions on timber sales by Chile’s Forestry Corporation (CORMA). He said that charges would be brought against the culprits behind Sunday’s events.
“Nothing justifies blocking the roads, still less the use of firearms against police. Those responsible will be punished in a court of law,” Díaz said.
The flare-up of violence is the latest episode in a fraught history shared by the Mapuche, state authorities and local residents. Calls are growing for a complete re-think of the approach of President Michelle Bachelet’s administration to the conflict, despite a raft of new measures aimed to ease tensions.
Francisco Huenchumilla, governor of Araucanía Region, pointed to the responsibility of the state National Organization for Indigenous Development (CONADI) for its failure to return indigenous territories quickly enough.
“CONADI is worn out and politically compromised. It needs a complete restructuring,” Huenchumilla said.
A tense meeting Tuesday afternoon in Cañete between Mapuche communities, government officials, transport workers and CORMA representatives was the first of several in the coming days. The relevant parties agreed to dismantle roadblocks while negotiations are ongoing.
By Laurie Blair
Copyright – The Santiago Times 2014