Chilean authorities in the Biobío region announced Thursday the arrest of at least 11 leaders of the Mapuche Lafkenche Resistance (RML), a radical group behind numerous attacks in the south of the country as a result of the territorial dispute between the state, indigenous groups and forestry companies that exploit lands considered ancestral by the indigenous people.
The Investigative Police (PDI), with the support of the Navy, raided a dozen homes in the communities of Curanilahue and Cañete, both in the Biobío region, more than 520 kilometers south of Santiago, leading up to Thursday's detentions.
The arrest of members of the Mapuche Lafkenche Resistance is a great achievement, the fruit of the joint work between the Prosecutor's Office and the police, which as a government we are promoting and supporting with resources and coordination. We will continue working along these lines, said Interior Minister Carolina Tohá on X (formerly Twitter).
One retired officer of the Carabineros police force as well as another still on active duty were said to be among those apprehended.
This is an investigation that has a couple of years, it starts in 2021 and is linked to the theft of wood, explained Ignacio Castillo Val, director of the Specialized Unit of Organized Crime of the National Prosecutor's Office, in a radio interview.
The Mapuche people, Chile's largest indigenous group, claim the territories they inhabited for centuries before they were forcibly occupied by the Chilean state at the end of the 19th century in a process officially known as the Pacification of Araucanía and which now belong mostly to forestry companies. In this context, there are frequent arson attacks on machinery and land, roadblocks and timber theft, as well as shootouts.
Since mid-2022, the area has been under a state of constitutional exception ratified by Congress, which allows the military to be deployed in the area to assist the Carabineros in controlling public order, including surveillance of the main highways and surrounding roads.
The last recorded attack was Wednesday in the region of La Araucanía where a group destroyed two trucks and five forestry machines in the Toltén area.
According to Interior Undersecretary Manuel Monsalve, there have been nearly 300 convictions linked to acts of violence in the southern part of the country between 2022 and 2023 in connection with the territorial conflict. There is no impunity, there is criminal effectiveness and therefore the filing of complaints is not a symbolic act. It seeks proceedings, but it also has results because we have convictions and people arrested, he stressed.
Six of Thursday's detainees were remanded while the other five were placed under full house arrest, it was reported.
The RML claims, in some of its publications and messages after the attacks, that its actions are pro-Mapuche causes. However, different versions claim that the group uses the struggle of the Mapuche people to carry out common crimes, such as robbery and trafficking, according to local media.
The RML began its criminal activity in April 2020, when they tried to demolish the Lleu Lleu bridge in Tirúa. The bridge was not damaged, but they did damage an electrical generator nearby. Since then they have carried out several arson attacks and confrontations with police in the Bío Bío and La Araucanía regions.
After the first attack, the RML communicated that we vindicate the armed action carried out this Monday, April 13 in the Lleu Lleu sector against police officers at the service of forestry companies usurping our ancestral territory. The publication was accompanied by a photograph of a group of at least 70 people, heavily armed and several of them wearing military camouflage clothing.
The RML has been reported to be a group dedicated to committing common crimes that escalated over the years and specialized in timber theft. It is said to be made up of different groups operating in the Bío Bío and Araucanía regions, particularly in communes such as Cañete, Tirúa, Contulmo, Los Álamos, and Curanilahue, as well as in Purén and Cautín.
Although the RML usually issues statements with pro-Mapuche messages after each crime, its members would not be part of established Mapuche communities. Rather, they would be career criminals specialized in burglary, vehicle theft, timber theft, damages, threats, drug trafficking, micro-trafficking, and cultivation. The organization is said not to have a formal structure which causes a constant rotation of members and leaders.
However, they have also carried out attacks -mostly by arson- to disguise their true nature.