Mapuche conflict in Chile flares up following the killing of local indigenous activist
Dozens turned out on Saturday in southern Chile for the funeral of a Mapuche land activist and fugitive who last Tuesday was found dead of shotgun wounds to the chest. Carabineros have made no arrests and have no suspects so far, said local authorities.
At the funeral the president of the Council of All Lands indigenous organization, Aucan Huilcaman said that he does not discard police participation in the killing of 26-year old Rodrigo Elicer Melinao Licán who was found dead near land guarded by police in Ercilla, Araucania region, where an ongoing conflict between landowners, farmers and Mapuches has led to outbreaks of violence.
“We do not exclude the participation of Carabineros, as the family has pointed out” said Huilcamam.
“Here there are forest guards, groups that have threatened to use fire arms, and this has been supported by the Chilean government, the Minister of Agriculture Luis Mayor in several opportunities has said that legitimate defence means appealing to fire arms”, claimed the indigenous leader.
He added that if dialogue is ignored, “we could be in the presence of an escalation of violence in the zone”.
Gustavo González, general director of Chile’s Carabineros told media on Wednesday that there is no apparent link between the police and the killing.
“According to the information we are working with, there is no use of weapons or any police procedure or police station that is linked with this act,” González said. He added “my job is to clarify things, to be concrete and objective”.
Regional police chief, Iván Bezmalinovic, also spoke to the press Wednesday, adding that the local officers were not in the area of the incident on Monday night and that the officers do not carry the kind of weapon used in the crime. The autopsy reportedly identified 80 12-gauge lead pellets as the ammunition used.
“This institution does not use the type of ammunition that was found in the body of this young man” Bezmalinovic said, asking for everyone to give the investigation due time to determine the facts of the case.
Last Friday a group of hooded raiders in the early dawn torched several trucks. Apparently a barricade was set up, and the trucks were stopped. Drivers forced down and then the trucks were set on fire.
Carabineros special forces were called to the place and exchanged gun fire with the raiders but finally they managed to flee and no arrests were made.
Earlier this month the United Nations urged Chile’s government to stop using an anti-terrorism law against Mapuche indigenous who are fighting to recover their ancestral land.
Ben Emmerson, the UN special investigator on human rights and counter-terrorism, said the situation is ‘‘volatile’’ in the southern regions of Araucania and Bio Bio, where most of the nearly one million Mapuche live.
Speaking after a two-week visit to Chile, he warned ‘‘that it could turn into a major regional conflict unless urgent action is taken to deal with the acts of violence’’.
He said Chilean prosecutors have enough legislation ‘‘at their disposal to investigate and punish crimes’’ without the need to use the terrorism law that dates from Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-90 dictatorship.
‘‘The anti-terrorist legislation has been used in a way that discriminates against the Mapuche. It has been applied in a confusing and arbitrary way, which has turned into a real injustice that has impaired the right to a fair trial. And it has been perceived as stigmatizing and de-legitimizing of the Mapuche territorial demands and protests,’’ Emmerson said.