SANTIAGO – Prosecutors are seeking 10 years in jail for the Chilean police officer suspected of killing the Mapuche Indian university student Matias Catrileo in 2008, whose death renewed the conflict between Indians and forestry companies in the southern part of the country, local media said.
According to radio Bio Bio, military prosecutor Jose Pinto Aparicio, who closed investigations into this case nine days ago, asked for 10 years in prison for the Carabineros (militarized police) officer Walter Ramirez Inostroza.
The incident occurred on Jan. 3, 2008 on the Santa Margarita estate, located outside the town of Vilcun in the La Araucania region and some 670 kilometers (416 miles) south of Santiago.
The death of 22-year-old Catrileo stirred up the conflict anew in La Araucania, where on Aug. 12 another young Mapuche, Jaime Mendoza Collio, 24, died after being shot in the back by a cop.
The military tribunal decided this Thursday to retain in custody the police officer arrested for that incident, Patricio Jara Muñoz, and said that he would be tried for the crime of “unnecessary violence resulting in death.”
Collio died when Carabineros officers carrying out a court order dislodged a group of Indians who had occupied a ranch in Angol, at 600 kilometers (373 miles) from Santiago, and who considered that the land belonged to them.
In a similar clash young Alex Lemun, 17, died in November 2002 after being shot in the town of Ercilla, supposedly by a Carabineros officer, but a military tribunal dropped charges against him after his trial.
Southern Chile has been the scene of long-running land disputes between Mapuche communities and farmers and lumber firms, with the conflicts often turning violent.
The Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous group with slightly more than 600,000 members, demand the constitutional recognition of their tribal identity, rights and culture, as well as ownership of the lands that belonged to their ancestors.
The government has mapped out a plan to purchase land and deliver it to communal landholders, but the process has gotten bogged down and more radical Indian protesters have resorted to violence as a pressure tactic.
Authorities have prosecuted violent Indian protesters under the country’s dictatorship-era Anti-Terrorism Law, which expands police and judicial powers, while the Chilean right claims – though thus far without concrete evidence – that foreign groups are behind the most violent Mapuche protests.