Santiago, May 24 (EFE).- At least five people were injured on Tuesday – one of them seriously – in a new attack in southern Chile, where the government declared a state of emergency last week amid a flare-up in a long-standing land conflict involving indigenous Mapuche militants.
The Carabineros police force said a group of forestry laborers were ambushed by hooded assailants while traveling to a work site on a road between Capitan Pastene, a town in the Araucania region, and Tirua, a municipality located in neighboring Biobio.
One of the victims was shot in the head and had to be rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Temuco, Araucania’s capital, Carabineros said.
“The worker, who remains in serious condition, has a ballistic impact in the cranium and is undergoing surgery,” the presidential delegate in that region, Raul Allard, told reporters at the entrance to the hospital.
Elsewhere, a score of hooded assailants in Arauco, a city in Biobio, tried to attack several Carabineros officers who were guarding a rural estate. No one was injured in that incident, the police force said.
The Mapuches, who number around 650,000, are the largest indigenous group in Chile, a nation of some 17 million people. They live mainly in Araucania and greater Santiago.
They are demanding constitutional recognition of their identity, rights and culture, as well as legal title to their traditional territory, largely snatched away in the late 19th-century during an “extermination” campaign in Araucania and now in the hands of forestry companies.
Arson attacks on heavy machinery and private property occur almost daily amid a conflict that has claimed the lives of Mapuches, Chilean police and “settlers.”
Dozens of Mapuches, meanwhile, have gone to prison on “terrorism” charges, and some of them have carried out hunger strikes to protest their situation.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric declared a “limited” state of emergency on May 17 for 15 days in Araucania and in the provinces of Arauco and Biobio in the Biobio region, an action that authorizes soldiers to protect roads and highways.
The center-left head of state had previously vowed not to deploy troops to that restive region and had criticized his predecessor, conservative Sebastian Piñera, for resorting to a military strategy.
The armed forces operation under Piñera began in October and lasted for around six months (until being lifted by Boric), but it was unsuccessful in lowering tensions or tamping down the violence. EFE