SANTIAGO – Twenty-three Mapuche Indians being held at two prisons in southern Chile are on hunger strike to demand due process and respect for their rights, inmates’ families told Efe.
Fifteen of the prisoners are being held in the El Manzano prison in Concepcion, Chile’s second city, and the other eight are at the detention center in Temuco, 670 kilometers (415 miles) south of Santiago.
All 23 are still awaiting trial, in some cases more than 18 months after their arrest.
Kin of the Mapuches, who are charged under a broad anti-terrorism law dating from the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, contrast the treatment experienced by their loved ones with the right-wing Chilean government’s public expressions of sympathy with political prisoners in Cuba.
“The stance of the central government has been of complete support (for the political prisoners in Cuba). They don’t take account of the internal problem they are creating. It’s a double standard,” Maria Tralcal, the wife of one of the imprisoned Mapuches, told Efe.
The prisoners are demanding, among other things, the conclusion of the cases brought against them in military courts, the release of all “Mapuche political prisoners” and the end to the application of the anti-terrorism law against them.
The anti-terrorism law allows the authorities to keep the accused in pre-trial detention for up to two years, prevent defense lawyers from gaining access to the investigation and present witnesses whose identities and faces are concealed.
The United Nations has criticized the application of the law against the Mapuches, who represent Chile’s main indigenous ethnic group.
The prisoners on hunger strike are also complaining that they are victims of police frame-ups and are demanding an end to practices that violate their human rights, among which they cite extortion, physical and psychological torture and degrading conditions of imprisonment.
Also, they are asking for an end to what they call the militarization of the Mapuche zones in southern Chile.
The 650,000-strong Mapuche nation is demanding constitutional recognition of its identity, rights and culture, as well as ownership of the tribe’s traditional territory in Araucania.
Their struggle to reclaim ancestral lands from farmers and timber companies led last year to the deaths of two Indian activists in confrontations with police, while a number of Mapuche militants are facing charges for attacks on cargo trucks. EFE