Business & Economy

Arson attack in southern Chile

Santiago de Chile, Dec 23 (EFE). – A church and a community hall were completely destroyed Saturday in an arson attack in Contulmo, in the southern region of Biobío, amid a years-long conflict between the state, logging companies and indigenous communities.

According to local media, the attack took place in the early hours of the morning in the Huillinco Alto sector, when a group of unidentified people fired shots and then burned the buildings. No injuries were reported.

This is the second arson attack in Contulmo this week, after five houses were destroyed on Thursday. The area has also recently been the scene of several roadblocks and clashes with security forces.

The presidential delegate of Arauco, Humberto Toro, described the events as “unacceptable” and stated that the attacks were carried out by “small groups that try to generate acts of violence in order to protect a criminal,” referring to Camilo Astete.

Astete was sentenced to 6 years in prison for the crime of frustrated murder and arson related to the Lavkenche Mapuche resistance.

The Lavkenche Mapuche Resistance (RML) – also known as the Lafkenche Mapuche Resistance – is a multi-group organization that has been active in the Araucania and Biobío regions.

In some of its publications and messages following the attacks, the RML asserts that its actions are for Mapuche causes. Other versions, however, claim that the group uses indigenous protest struggles to carry out common crimes such as robbery and trafficking.

Since mid-2022, a constitutional state of emergency has been in force in the Araucania and Biobío regions, ratified 11 times by Congress, which allows the deployment of the military to assist the Carabineros (militarized police) in the control of public order, including the surveillance of the main highways and surrounding roads.

La Araucanía and other areas of southern Chile, such as Biobío, have been embroiled for decades in a territorial dispute between the state, some Mapuche communities, and forestry companies that exploit lands considered ancestral by the Indigenous people.

The Mapuche people, the largest Indigenous group in Chile, 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 La Araucanía”, and which is now mostly owned by forestry companies.

In this context, arson attacks on machinery and property are frequent, and the conflict has cost the lives of a large number of Mapuche community members at the hands of state agents, as well as the deaths of police officers and hunger strikes by indigenous prisoners. EFE

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