July 30, 2010
31 jailed Mapuche Indians in Chile on hunger strike.
Santiago de Chile.

SANTIAGO, July 29, 2010 (AFP) – Thirty-one jailed Mapuche Indians are on a hunger strike demanding that harsh anti-terrorist laws enacted during the military dictatorship and used to imprison them be overturned, an activist group said Thursday.

Two jailed Mapuches on Thursday joined a group of 29 Indians who have been on a hunger strike for the past two weeks, said the group "Pais Mapuche" (Mapuche Nation).

Numbering around 600,000, the Mapuches are the biggest Indian minority in Chile, representing around six percent of the population.

Currently 106 Mapuches are in prison, activists say.

The activists want strict anti-terrorist measures enacted during the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship to be overturned, the group said. The law permits lengthy preventative detention and a tripling of sentences.

The activists are also demanding the return of ancestral land lost in a 19th century military conflict that has since been split up among ranch-holders and lumber or farm companies.

Many of the activists were arrested during a campaign by the Indians to seize private properties, burn company equipment and clash with police on land they claim as their own in the Araucania region, some 650 kilometers (400 miles) south of Santiago.

In 2008, the confrontations resulted in the death of one Mapuche Indian.

The first jailed Mapuches began hunger strikes on July 11 in prisons in Concepcion and Temuco. They were joined by hunger strikers held in prisons in Valdivia, Temuco, Angol and Concepcion, all in southern Chile.

On July 19 a group of Mapuches filed a case against the Chilean government at the United Nations Human Rights Council over the controversial anti-terrorism law.

In 2009 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination asked Chile to review the law and urge that it not be applied to the Mapuches for social protests.

Since 1994 the Mapuches recovered more than 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres), an amount the activists believe is insufficient.

Some Mapuche activists are seeking a Basque-style or Catalan-style autonomy for the region, which authorities in Santiago have firmly rejected.