Behind the headlines of the ongoing turmoil of Los 33 lies a news story in Chile that has failed to gain much local or international media attention.
For the last two months, 34 indigenous Mapuche prisoners all over the country have been on a large-scale hunger strike and many are now in a critical state of health, some losing up to 20kg. Although imprisoned for their actions during a dispute over ancestral land in the Araucanía region, in the south of Chile, the main cause for protest is the prisoners’ objection to being detained and charged under anti-terrorism laws.
As Uruguayan journalist Raúl Zibechi pointed out earlier this week, the remnants of Pinochet’s dictatorship continue to plague the Mapuches, with the counter-terrorism legislation that he enacted in 1984 still enabling the modern day government to charge them as terrorist suspects and trial them in military courts.
Despite Mapuche actions being repeatedly ignored and their actions quashed, four left-wing congressmen (members of the opposition) joined the hunger strike in a surprise act of solidarity last Thursday. Bowing to pressure and in an effort to pacify the protestors, that very same evening President Sebastián Piñera introduced measures to revise the legislation. Yet there is still little evidence to show that the government is willing to actively engage in discussions with the Mapuche or that it is open to the idea of implementing deeper, longer lasting reforms.
Originally designed to draw international attention to their plight, the Mapuche hunger strike has sparked off a stream of solidarity protests across the world. In Chile itself, up until now the protest has been downplayed by the media and the government. Rather than a change in heart, it is likely that Piñera’s sudden haste to amend the legislation has much more to do with preventing the protest from tainting next week’s celebrations for Chile’s bicentennial of independence. It remains to be seen whether the Mapuches will gain the recognition that they deserve.
Are these the same Mapuche displayed by Benetton in its land-grabbing movement in Patagonia?
Yes Barry, the Mapuche are based in Chile and Argentina (see http://www.mapuche-nation.org/english/html/m_nation/main/history.htm) Although I think the Benetton case was related to Argentine Mapuche territory, see http://www.mapuche-nation.org/english/main/benetton/main/info.htm for further info.