Santiago, Nov 10 (EFE).- President Gabriel Boric said during a visit Thursday to the southern region of Araucania that Chile’s Anti-Terrorism Law is an inappropriate tool for addressing flare-ups of violence and arson attacks there.
The leftist president’s visit to that region – the epicenter of a longstanding conflict involving security forces, powerful economic interests and the Mapuche indigenous community – was his first since taking office in March.
“There have been terrorist acts in the region, but the problem is that the immediate rush to apply the Anti-Terrorism Law has produced terrible results for the victims and for the state,” he added.
Before his arrival, the president strongly condemned the attacks in Araucania – the burning of a school and a church, and the blocking of that region’s main highway – calling the perpetrators “cowards” and vowing that they will face “the full force of the law.”
He blamed the violence on “criminal groups who exploit legitimate causes to commit crimes and cause fear, injury and death.”
“They remind me of when in the 1930s Nazis burned synagogues, or when (Chile’s 1973-1990) military dictatorship burned books in Plaza San Borja,” Borja said. “The vast majority of the Mapuche people want peace, and we’re going to have dialogue with them.”
In the first press conference of his visit, Boric also announced a series of measures in the areas of public safety, social improvements and political dialogue in Araucania that will be codified into a law that “transcends” his presidency.
“We want it to be a policy of state. I don’t want it to be identified with my name in particular,” said the president, who invited governors, lawmakers, mayors and other key actors in the region to help draft the legislation.
Boric recalled that the conflict between the state and the Mapuche people remains unresolved despite efforts made in the past by different governments.
“The only way to stop the violence from further escalating is to repay the historical debt the Chilean state has with the Mapuche people,” the president said.
He was referring to the seizure of that indigenous group’s traditional territory (now largely in the hands of logging companies owned by powerful economic groups) during an “extermination” campaign in Araucania in the late 19th century.
In the first item on his agenda in Araucania, Boric and three ministers accompanying him on the visit met with the regional governor, Luciano Rivas.
Later, while chairing a meeting of the regional Cabinet, Boric said the state has been guilty of abandoning certain sectors of Araucania and pledged a renewed government presence that will ensure “tranquility and peace for our country.”
“That’s not only from a public order perspective, although that’s our biggest concern,” Boric said during the meeting, insisting on the need for investment in security, infrastructure, health care, education, culture and sports.
Friday will be the final day of the president’s visit to Araucania, a much-anticipated trip that was announced weeks ago.
The so-called “Mapuche conflict,” which has dragged on for decades in Araucania and other regions of southern Chile, pits indigenous communities against agricultural and logging interests that exploit territory regarded by native peoples as their ancestral land.
In that context, arson attacks against heavy machinery and other property are frequent and many members of the Mapuche community have been killed by security forces.
The conflict has also claimed the lives of police officers, while indigenous prisoners sentenced to lengthy prison terms have staged hunger strikes. EFE