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President Piñera Shroud’s the Seige of a Nation

Press Release – 29th September, 2010

Today, Wednesday at 13:00 hour a delegation of three representatives from Mapuche and Chilean organisations including the Chilean Association of Former Political Prisoners in the United Kingdom will present the Chilean ambassador in London with a petition containing over 3100 hundred signatures in support of the 35 Mapuche political prisoners currently on hunger strike in jails across Chile.

As a desperate act to draw the world's attention to their plight, 35 Mapuche political prisoners, including two minors, jailed under Chile's notorious anti-terror laws, committed to hunger strike on 12th July. On day 80 of their campaign they are now in serious danger of potential fatality if the hunger strike continues much further.  It may be noted that the Irish nationalist hunger striker Bobby Sands died at day 66 of his protest. 

The prisoners are demanding the repeal of draconian anti terror laws (initially introduced under the former Pinochet dictatorship as a means of silencing democratic dissent), an end to the persecution, incarceration and indefinite pre trial detention of Mapuche, Lonkos (chiefs) and their families, and the demilitarization of Mapuche areas, an end to the use of faceless witnesses, an end to trial in both military and civil courts and freedom to all Mapuche political prisoners, many of whom were sentenced from between ten and over a hundred years for petty acts of civil disobedience, similar to the characteristic protests made by members of the American civil rights movement under Rev Martin Luther King and the Suffragette movement of 20th century Britain.

Following widespread domestic and international pressure, including four Chilean opposition MPs and over a hundred more individuals showing their solidarity by temporarily joining the strike, the Chilean authorities last week reluctantly agreed to negotiate with the prisoners via a third party, the Catholic bishop of Concepcion, Ricardo Ezzati. However despite vague promises the government has yet to make any genuine concessions in order to adequately address their demands and so the strike continues into its eightieth day with no solution in sight. 

In failing to fully reform the anti terrorism law to prevent future arbitrary applications against Mapuche democratic dissent the government fails to allow the Mapuche nation their historic democratic and legitimate voice in accordance with ILO convention 169 (adopted by Chile in 2008). The government have in fact added stiffer penalties for offences involving abuse of a police person or official (an offense commonly unjustly cited in cases against Mapuche land rights protesters), there has been no consensus on the adoption of the proposal to end the application of anti terrorist law to crimes of petty arson (again a conviction commonly enacted against Mapuche) neither has the government agreed to end the simultaneous trial in both civil and military court for civil offenses (regularly enacted against Mapuche) nor has it agreed to end the oppression of Mapuche communities via the militarization of Mapuche territories, Lastly the state has made no reference to bringing an end to the use of anonymous witnesses in Mapuche cases. Therefore, taken as a whole it is clear that, in fact none of the demands of the hunger strikers have been seriously nor effectively addressed.   

The President’s singular contribution to ease the historic tension to date has been his announcement of Plan Araucania as a multi-million dollar investment project aimed at improving infrastructure and resources in Mapuche communities, a gesture which was not developed in consultation with Mapuche communities in breach the requirement of free and informed prior consent required under ILO convention 169. The Plan appears to be an attempt at pacification and assimilation akin to an orwellian opium for the people and a grand attempt to project a philanthropic public impression of paternalistic concern and a vain attempt to sugar coat the bitter sweet pill of betrayal.

Regarding his ongoing communications with the Chilean State, James Anaya the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples announced on Fri 24 Sept “I have expressed my deepest concern about this situation and the need to move towards resolving the various issues related to the demands of the hunger strike. Whist regarding the governments lack of will to fully implement ILO convention principles into practice, he affirmed that, "Both I and my predecessor, Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen, have expressed our concern regarding the implementation of the antiterrorism law in this context and we made several observations and specific recommendations. Also, several treaty bodies of the United Nations, including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, have expressed concern about the implementation of the antiterrorism law in this context. However, recent developments in the hunger strike indicate a lack of proper implementation of these recommendations indicating the discontent about the underlying problems that give rise to this social protest.

Due to the escalating crisis and the refusal of the Chilean authorities to concede to the prisoners just claim for justice and equality for Mapuche under state law , the majority of Mapuche feel alienated from the Chilean political, social, economic and legal system. A meeting of Mapuche authorities in Freire, IX region on 26th September has publicly renounced the authority of the Chilean state law within the boundaries of Mapuche ancestral lands, which were illegally annexed by Chile in 1883. Their statements said “We reject any application of the law of the Chilean State towards our peoples, we believe that state law has no jurisdiction over our territory, therefore we strongly urge the current government to immediately release our children whom they hold hostage in our own land”, They further add that “they do not recognize any Chilean laws imposed upon the Mapuche people and communities.” As an outward expression of this consensus Chief Juana Calfunao former political prisoner (2006-2010) and hunger striker (2006) and mother of one of the current hunger strikers Waikilaf this week called for all roads leading into Temuco city, situated in the Mapuche territory (south of the Bio-Bio river) to be blocked.

The majority Mapuche discontent is the result of centuries of repression, discrimination and attempted assimilation of the Mapuche people from the point of Chilean annexation of their territory in 1883 to the present. As a result of this act of assimilation the state treated Mapuche as second class citizens subsequently denying them their civil, political and economic rights and condemning them to a life of abject poverty. 

The presently frail hunger strikers whose families have recently been denied flexible visits to their loved ones by government decree appear to be effectively isolated from the outside world with requests from media, friends and independent medical professionals for access to them being systematically denied. Reports by health professionals state that the strikers are in a most critical phase of the strike as they have used all reserves of stored body fat, their bodies have now begun to utilise fats from the vital organs such as heart, liver and kidneys, as such the risk of organ failure is at its highest. Further the government recently won an appeal in the Supreme Court to force feed the strikers should they wish to do so, in breach of international ethical standards of practice enshrined in the Malta declaration. According to leading international human rights organisation Amnesty International the force-feeding of hunger strikers is tantamount to torture.

Mapuche International Link



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