SANTIAGO – A score of Mapuche Indian leaders mounted a symbolic siege here Monday at the studios of Bio Bio radio to protest the Chilean media’s silence about a hunger strike by 32 jailed Mapuche activists.
Dressed in traditional garb and carrying musical instruments, the Mapuches gathered outside the studio’s main entrance at 9:30 a.m. Though they put a padlock on the door, the Indians allowed Bio Bio employees to freely come and go throughout the day.
The protest is aimed at breaking the “communications barrier” erected by the Chilean state and media around the Mapuche prisoners’ hunger strike, activist Olga Trai Plantileo told Efe.
“What we are asking and demanding is the freedom to inform,” she said. “That they stop making people believe our people are terrorists, that they show reality as it is.”
Trai said the symbolic siege would continue until Bio Bio aired an interview with spokespeople for the hunger strikers.
“The petition was accepted. Now we’re waiting for it to be put on the air,” she said.
But Bio Bio management, which described the Mapuche protest as a “visit,” said there was no interview.
“They made a visit in which they delivered their complaints. We took note and nothing more,” station director Rodrigo Quinteros told Efe.
The Mapuche hunger strikers demand the scrapping of a broad anti-terrorism law dating from the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and an end to what they describe as politically motivated prosecutions.
The anti-terror legislation allows the state to hold people for up to two years without charges, restrict defense attorneys’ access to evidence and use testimony from anonymous witnesses.
The hunger strikers also want the “demilitarization” of the southern region of Araucania, the heartland of the 650,000-strong Mapuche nation, Chile’s largest indigenous group.
Some of the prisoners, who began their fast 42 days ago, have lost as much as 12 kilos (26 pounds) and are suffering from nausea, dizziness and mental confusion, their families say.
The hunger strikers are among 106 Mapuches convicted or awaiting trial for politically motivated acts, such as attacks on agri-business and forest products companies in Araucania.
The Mapuches’ struggle to reclaim ancestral led last year to the deaths of two Indian activists in confrontations with police.
“As a people we make it very clear that we will continue supporting our people toward liberty and the return of all our ancestral territory,” Trai said Monday. EFE