22 May 2006

MAPUCHES PROTEST AGAINST DISCRIMINATION

(May 22, 2006) The Mapuche hunger strikers renewed their protest against Chile’s anti-terrorist law Saturday after accusing government officials of failing to uphold their side of the agreement that ended a 63 day hunger strike on May 14. The four prisoners refused meals Saturday and called for a general Mapuche strike throughout the country.

The group went without food for over two months to raise awareness about the unequal treatment of Mapuches under Chilean law. The group was sentenced under Chile’s anti-terrorist law in 2005 to 10 years and one day in prison and a fine of $400 million pesos (US$765,000) each for starting a fire that burned 100 hectares of timber in southern Chile.

Indigenous rights activists claim that the application of the anti-terrorist law in this case is discriminatory and reflects a broader government bias against Chile’s indigenous communities, a claim that is supported at the highest levels of the government.

“If a youth threw a Molotov Cocktail at a police car in Santiago there is no way the courts could apply the arms control law against him, it would be too severe,” said Antonio Leal, president of Chile’s Chamber of Deputies. “But when a Mapuche does the same thing in Region IX, he is charged under the anti-terrorist law.”

This inequality is exactly what the Mapuche community is protesting. On Saturday over 200 supporters of the hunger strike marched through the center of Santiago to demand that the government take their situation seriously and hold up their side of the agreement to pass legislation on the issue by Wednesday.

“Congress is supposed to vote on the law this Wednesday, but it has so far only made been seen by the Human Rights committee,” said Cristina Painemal, spokeswoman for the hunger strikers. “(The strikers) are not willing to wait forever.”

SOURCE: LA NACIÓN, EL MERCURIO, LA TERCERA