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A radical indigenous Mapuche organization trying to claim ancestral lands declared war today on Chile.
The Arauco-Malleco Coordinator declared war on Chile by sending an email to a radio. Its members have claimed responsibility for recent arson attacks on trucks owned by lumber companies that legally possess the lands claimed by the Mapuche.
In the email, the Coordinator states that “the territory of the autonomous Mapuche nation starts in Bio Bio [river] to the south. We are putting an end to all dialogue with the Republic of Chile, and we declare war on the Chilean State, as of today.”
“Given that the government has shown no signs of putting an end to the repression against our communities, we have decided to renounce to the Chilean citizenship,” it added.
The Bio Bio region is about 322 miles south of Santiago, and was the original frontier of Mapuche territory during colonization. Not even the Spanish conquerors were able to defeat the Mapuche, and it wasn’t until Chile gained independence in 1810 that the army went in and decimated the indigenous population, pushing them to a fraction of their original lands. Over the following 200 years, their lands were further encroached by large companies and landholders who were provided with often illegitimately-obtained land titles.
The historical conflict over land ownership in southern Chile between Mapuche communities and large landholders and lumber companies in the Araucania region, over 420 miles south of the capital, has escalated over the past few weeks.
Mapuche groups have continued occupying lands and attacking lumber trucks and vehicles, while the police have indiscriminately raided Mapuche homes and used disproportionate force. On Oct. 16, seven children were injured by rubber bullets shot by the police during a still unexplained raid on their school. On Monday, a television crew filmed a police officer repeatedly kicking a Mapuche in the head after the man was arrested when showing up at a local court to ask about a member of his community who had been arrested. The Carabineros police announced it would open an internal investigation into the beating.
The government has reacted by sending in more police forces and applying draconian anti-terrorist legislation created under the Pinochet dictatorship on the Mapuche.
At the same time, it is trying to speed up land purchases for the Mapuche — lands for which landholders are charging exorbitant prices. However, in spite of government promises to purchase the lands claimed by the indigenous population, the conflict, instead of dying down, has spiraled upwards.
Many of the Coordinator’s leaders have been imprisoned in recent years, but its membership is continuously renewed, pulling in younger generations. The more radical groups are a minority within the Mapuche community, but an active and often violent one.
The Minister of Interior, Edmundo Perez, who was appointed by President Michelle Bachelet as delegate to negotiate the purchase of lands with the Mapuche communities, warned that the government would close off all dialogue with anyone found “protecting” Coordinator members.
The most active Mapuche in the land occupations has been the Autonomous Community of Temucuicui, which reacted immediately. Community spokesman Jorge Huenchullan said the government policies were mistaken. The only thing Perez is doing, he said, “was fomenting even more Mapuche uprisings.”