Conflicts & War

Radical indigenous group in Chile responds to leader’s arrest with defiance

Santiago, Aug 24 (EFE).- Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), seen as the radical wing of the Mapuche indigenous movement in southern Chile, reacted Wednesday to the arrest of its leader by calling for stepped-up resistance.

“We make an appeal … to continue and commence new processes of recuperation against big capital, though genuine territorial control, and to continue with the resistance and sabotage against, mainly, the forestry industry, hydroelectric (plants), mining and salmon farming,” CAM said in a statement.

The group, founded in 1997, likewise urged the Mapuche “not to be intimidated by this government that has kneeled before the business community.”

Hector Llaitul, 54, was arrested at a restaurant in the town of Cañete and taken to Temuco, capital of the Araucania region, on suspicion of “theft of lumber, usurpation and attacks on authority.”

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.

For decades, CAM and other militant have attacked assets of the forestry companies and agri-business firms that now occupy much of the Mapuches’ ancestral territory.

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,” while dozens of Mapuche activists have gone to prison on terrorism charges.

In Wednesday’s statement, the CAM insisted that its fight to reclaim Mapuche lands has “nothing to do with lumber and narco-trafficking mafias.”

The arrest of Llaitul came in the context of an investigation that was launched in 2020 at the instigation of then-President Sebastian Piñera and expanded last month by the administration of current head of state Gabriel Boric.

“As a government we want to attest that the rule of law functions and nobody is above the law,” Interior Minister Izkia Siches told reporters Wednesday after Llaitul was detained.

Since taking office in March, the center-left Boric has resorted to the imposition in Araucania of emergency measures of the kind that he denounced when they were used by rightist predecessor Piñera. EFE


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