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Press Release – 20 November 2017
Chile’s indigenous Mapuche communities are bracing themselves for a new right-wing President after Sebastian Piñera won the first round of presidential elections. The elections, which were held on Sunday 19th November 2017, saw three main candidates vying for the Presidency: Sebastian Piñera from Chile Vamos, Alejandro Guillier from Nueva Mayoría and Beatriz Sánchez from Frente Amplio. However, opinion polling had long suggested that Sebastian Piñera, a businessman and former President of Chile with a net worth of around $2.7 billion USD, would win the first round of the primary election.
Disappointingly Chilean-Mapuche Relations have not been high on the electoral agenda. Sebastian Piñera however, has been vocal about zealously applying ‘anti-terrorism’ laws. The Anti-Terrorist Law, or Law 18.314, was enacted under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1984 as a way of suppressing political dissent. The law enables the prosecution to withhold evidence from the defendant for up to six months and allows the accused to be convicted based solely on unidentifiable witness testimony. This is one of the most controversial laws in Chilean history, and its continued use has put into question Chile’s commitment to human rights. Outgoing president Michelle Bachelet has overseen the use of the anti-terrorism law recently, which has been applied by the police to detain Mapuche leaders without trial for long periods of time.
Controversially Piñera has vowed that if elected, he would apply harsher penalties to hunt down and prosecute. He has gone even further arguing that Law 18.314 “needs to be perfected to make it more efficacious, establishing the figure of the concealed agent as well as protected witnesses and informant, the terrorists should not be given even a millimetre of advantage; they must be combated with all the rigor of the law”.
In recent months under the ‘left leaning’ coalition presidency of Michelle Bachelet, conditions for the Mapuche have deteriorated considerably. Several Mapuche leaders were rounded up during a string of coordinated raids that have been viewed as aggression against the Mapuche. ‘Operation Huracán’ as it has been named, has further damaged already strained relations against a backdrop of Mapuche hunger strikes and escalating police brutality. Despite a public apology from President Bachelet to the Mapuche people, her government’s record has been heavily criticised by indigenous people and organisations.
On September the 23rd, eight of the most prominent and radical-autonomist Mapuche leaders were illegally and violently detained by Chilean state forces as part of a joint operation conducted by the Chilean National Intelligence Agency (ANI) and the Carabineros (the Chilean national police force). None of these leaders were provided with a formal detention order– the Carabineros argued that a ‘verbal detention warrant’ was sufficient. They have since been released.
Atus Mariqueo-Russell from the UK-based NGO Mapuche International Link commented: “We’ve seen hunger strikes, police brutality and extended detentions without charge under Chile’s left-leaning president. Yet Piñera’s recent rhetoric, and his reliance upon far-right supporters, points to the likelihood that his administration will lead to an escalation of violence towards the Mapuche and other indigenous peoples in Chile.”
Chile’s 2017 Presidential election marked the first time that Chile’s citizens abroad could vote. While the vote share in Chile was decisively in Piñera’s favour, in Europe the picture was very different. In The Netherlands, Germany, France and the United Kingdom Chilean citizens instead opted to vote for the left-wing populist platform of Beatriz Sánchez from Frente Amplio.
Atus Mariqueo-Russell said: “Many Chilean citizens came to Europe as refugees fleeing the brutal and British-backed regime of Augusto Pinochet. It is no surprise that these voters have now used their voices to reject the right-wing authoritarian program of Piñera.”
Fran Cancino, a member of Frente Amplio in London said: “The victory of Frente Amplio in London shows that there are many people here who think that the neoliberal character of Chilean politics must be changed. We are confident that our program is a force capable of overcoming the legacy of Pinochet’s ghost, and we are convinced that we can find justice and peace working together.”
Chile will now proceed to a run-off election between Alejandro Guillier and Sebastian Piñera on December 17th.
Carole Concha Bell
Public Relations officer
For more on the Mapuche situation in Chile:
Chile Accused of Racist Use of Anti-terrorism Laws Against Mapuches
Mapuche conflict: ‘People feel danger every day’
Mapuches acquitted of arson attack and two deaths in south Chile
Note to editors:
Mapuche International Link has noted that several journalists have failed to fact check and have published in their articles that the Mapuche have been involved in setting fire to trucks and arson attacks when these are simply allegations and in most cases turn out to be untrue. We would urge news sites to check facts as we have been a target of false reporting, further endangering the safety of our communities.