Starving in the Shadows

Mapuche Hunger Strike Overshadowed by Chilean Miners’ Rescue: Reporter

A Mapuche protestor is arrested by Chilean riot police. Photo Antitezo

Issues affecting the indigenous people of Chile continue to be neglected in mainstream media coverage, and it’s no coincidence, Mapuche journalist Pedro Cayuqueo said at a conference in Montreal on Oct. 16.

“As a Chilean I am recognized, [but] I am a hologram as a Mapuche,” said Cayuqueo, founder of the Mapuche newspaper AzkintuWE. “The Indigenous Law changed the Mapuche territory. We are refugees in a camp like horses in a stable.”

According to Cayuqueo, the recent rescue of the Chilean miners overshadowed the Mapuche hunger strike that ended just over a week ago.

The strike began on July 12. Thirty-eight Mapuche prisoners were protesting the Chilean government’s use of an anti-terrorism law to criminalize their attempts to reclaim what they considered their ancestral land from the forestry industry.

Armando Navarette, of the Mapuche National Support Committee, said the anti-terrorism legislation allowed the Chilean police to jail suspects under the presumption of terrorism with a trial by military tribunal rather than civilian court.

On Oct. 5, 24 of the prisoners ended their strike after certain amendments were made to the Chilean terrorism laws. The remaining Mapuche said they were willing to starve to death to see significant change.

“[The situation with the miners] was used by the government so they [wouldn’t have to] talk about the Mapuche,” Cayuqueo said through a translator, noting that President Sebastian Pinera’s new government has been no different than that of former president Michelle Bachelet’s. “[They] apply laws that don’t recognize the rights of and criminalize the Mapuches and we think that scenario will keep going with Pinera.”
Cayuqueo, who also spoke in Toronto and Winnipeg recently, had plans to tour Canada in 2005 but was arrested and jailed days before his departure. There was much speculation among the Mapuche people that Cayuqueo, at the time of his arrest, was detained to disrupt his trip to Canada.

When members of the Movement in Support of the Mapuche Cause got word that Cayuqueo would be visiting Canada, they immediately tried to contact him so that he could stop in Montreal.

“I was so impressed by the silence [regarding the Mapuche hunger strike in the media],” said member Alejandro Cervantes.

Along with his objective to raise awareness about the governmental issues that surround the indigenous people of Chile, Cayuqueo’s aim was to improve communication between the natives of North and South America with the tour. During his stay in Montreal, he met Stuart Myiow, Wolf clan representative from the Mohawk Traditional Council in Kahnawake.

One of the obvious conflicts the Mapuches and Mohawks have been historically faced with is the destruction and plundering of their land.

Myiow sees the first step as being to record and exchange visuals of each tribe’s ceremonies in order to obviate the need for trips between continents.

“We’re talking about creating an alliance with the true people from each of the nations,” said Myiow. “What the Mohawk and Mapuche are doing in rebuilding the humanity is actually for the benefit of every living being on our mother earth.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 10, published October 19, 2010.