Mapuche activist faces life as notorious arson and murder trial begins

By Consuelo Fernanda Laclaustra
Published On: Tue, Feb 4th, 2014

Amid heated protests from the Mapuche community, prosecution petitions life imprisonment for Celestino Córdova for murder of the Luchsinger-Mackay couple.

A crowd of Mapuches outside the courts

Mapuche protesters gather outside the courthouse on the first day of the trial of Machi Celestino Córdova. Photo by Carlos Véjar / Twitter

Oral hearings began Monday in the Luchsinger-Mackay murder trial that could see Mapuche activist Celestino Córdova face life imprisonment under the anti-terrorism law in one of the most emblematic cases to employ the controversial legislation.

Seventeen people were apprehended as blood ran high among the members of the Mapuche community gathered outside the Araucanía Region’s public prosecutor’s office in support of Córdova — a man charged with burning the home and causing the death of Werner Luchsinger Lemp (75) and Vivian Mackay González (69) on Jan 4. 2013.

The home stood on property owned by the Luchsingers since 1906, however some members of the Mapuche community claimed ancestral rights over the land. While a group of activists is implicated in the attack, Córdova is the sole individual charged in the case, after being found injured by a gunshot wound allegedly on the couple’s land.

“There were precedents that allowed the investigation to continue,” Leonardo Pino Consejeros, a local attorney unattached to the case, told The Santiago Times. “The accused — Córdova — was a participant in events. However, it seems difficult to prove that he was the orchestrator and did everything on his own.”

Prior to the event, conflict between the Luchsinger family and Mapuche activists reached its height in 2008 when Matías Catrileo was shot in the back by police during a land rights protest on the property of Jorge Luchsinger, son of the Luchsinger-Mackay couple. Investigators said they found pamphlets referencing the fifth anniversary of the Catrileo death at the scene in 2013.

According to a press release from the prosecutor’s office, Córdova is charged in the case with aggravated robbery and arson resulting in two deaths. He may also face more severe sentencing as the prosecutor has invoked Chile’s contentious anti-terrorism law.

Applied in several cases involving conflict over ancestral lands, the legislation has come under significant criticism from human rights organizations and the United Nations for discriminating against indigenous communities. Proponents of the legislation frequently cite the alleged events of Jan. 4, 2013, as justification for the law.

As well as statements from Córdova’s lawyers, the second day of oral proceedings was marked by Jorge Luchsinger’s testimony. The prosecution considers the taped recording of Vivian Mackay’s last phone call to her son among the most damning evidence. In the call — which was leaked on social media and to the press— Mackay said that the attack was carried out by one of the activists.

A press release circulated last week by Mapuche associations stated that evidence will be presented proving that the wound in Córdova’s upper body was not consistent with the Luchsinger family firearm — a claim central to the defence.

The current trial will continue for 20 days. Sixty witnesses are expected to come forward and 40 pieces of evidence will be presented before the judge issues a verdict.

Source: The Santiago Times

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