Mapuche Hunger Strike Continues

Chilean Prisoners Protest Deforestation and Anti-Terrorism Laws

Police arrest activists calling for the release of Mapuche political prisoners. Photo Antitezo

Fourteen Mapuche aboriginals say they are willing to starve themselves to death in a Chilean prison to draw the eyes of the world to their villages, which they say are being leveled by the forestry industry.

Supporters of the Mapuche organized a press conference in Montreal on Oct. 7 to raise awareness of their land claim and the alleged human rights violations being propagated by the Chilean government and its anti-terrorist laws.

“This is a social movement, they are not terrorists,” said Armando Navarrete, representative of the Mapuche Nation Support Committee. “[The Mapuche] don’t want to stop, they’re willing to go until they’re dead or as long as the Chilean government continues to apply these anti-terrorist laws.”

Many Mapuche have been arrested on arson and destruction of property charges after the Chilean government sold a large portion of their land to forestry companies, allegedly without their consent. But the Mapuche say the arrests are unjust.

Navarrete said Chilean legislation has allowed the presumption of terrorism to trump the presumption of innocence. This has allowed for imprisonment without charges and trial by military tribunals rather than by civilian courts.

“They invented terms, ‘terrorist burning’ and ‘terrorist threats,’ but these acts haven’t been in the city, it has been on [Mapuche] land,” Navarrete said.

The laws, he continued, have been implemented specifically to target the Mapuche. “[The accused Mapuche] spend two and a half years in prison before being charged at which point, if they are found not guilty, they will be released. But once they’re out they are taken [in] again.”

Thirty-eight prisoners had been on the hunger strike since July 12, 2010 protesting the anti-terrorism laws.
Last week, 24 of the prisoners ended their strike following partial reform to the legislation after pressure from Amnesty International and the United Nations on the Chilean Government. But 14 prisoners remain in Chilean hospitals, continuing the protest fast until all Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws are repealed.

Stuart Myiow, Wolf Clan Representative for the Kahnawake Traditional Council, spoke in support of the Mapuche prisoners.

“Why is it that the Mapuche have to go on a hunger strike? Why is it illegal just for them to be alive?” Myiow said. “If we don’t take responsibility to fix this, and that means the problems that are plaguing the native people, [we’ll] never be able to get back your own humanity. Because how can you be human when you’re oppressing people? Humans don’t do that. Monsters do that.”

Myiow believes the onus of the Mapuche situation lies on the shoulders of all Canadians.

“Everybody is living in numbness where they don’t take responsibility for anything, even politicians, the buck is always passed,” Myiow said. “Six point five billion people need to realize what our individual responsibilities are. These responsibilities go beyond those to our family and to our nation. They extend to our Mother Earth.”

When asked if death was an option for these prisoners who do not achieve their goals, Navarrete was quick to respond, “Absolutely.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 09, published October 12, 2010.