September 3,2010
3,000 Chileans March on Behalf of Jailed Indian Activists

SANTIAGO – Some 3,000 people took part in a march in the Chilean capital to demand the release of Mapuche Indian activists jailed under an anti-terrorism law imposed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

“Resisting state terrorism and society’s indifference,” was the slogan on some of the placards seen Wednesday night on the streets of downtown Santiago.

In contrast with previous protests, police did not interfere with the march, though cops equipped with water cannon and tear-gas launchers were posted in the vicinity of the presidential palace.

Among the demonstrators were dozens of Indians in traditional costume.

While Chile is preparing to celebrate the Sept. 16 bicentennial of independence from Spain, “we mark 200 years of resistance” to the Chilean state, a Mapuche protester told Efe.

The chairman of the Chilean chapter of Amnesty International, attorney Hernan Vergara, said Wednesday that prison authorities are force-feeding some of the 32 Mapuche prisoners who have been on hunger strike for six weeks.

With “force-feeding we could fall into what are called the offenses of torture or cruelty,” he told Radio Cooperativa.

“What the government – in this case the state of Chile represented by (Sebastian) Piñera as president – should do is determine what are the (legal) procedures that provide guarantees to all the parties,” the lawyer and rights activist said.

“We are neither in favor of, nor opposed to, the hunger strike,” he said, while urging authorities to be “very careful” in their efforts to induce the prisoners to end the fast.

The Chilean government is currently holding 106 Mapuches – some convicted, others awaiting trial – for acts of political violence in the southern region of Araucania.

The offenses include torching vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a Mapuche campaign to reclaim ancestral lands from agribusiness and forest products companies.

Thirty-two of the Mapuche prisoners have been on hunger strike for more than 40 days to demand the scrapping of the Pinochet anti-terrorism law, which allows the state to hold people for up to two years without charges, to restrict defense attorneys’ access to evidence and to use testimony from anonymous witnesses.

The hunger strikers also want the “demilitarization” of Araucania, the heartland of the 650,000-strong Mapuche nation, Chile’s largest indigenous group.

Two appellate courts ruled this week that prison authorities can force-feed the hunger strikers. EFE