SANTIAGO – Some 5,000 people turned out Monday in the Chilean capital for a march in support of the indigenous Mapuche people that ended in clashes between groups of hooded militants and police.
The demonstration was aimed at showing that “the Mapuche people continue resisting with dignity the oppressive colonialism of the Chilean state and the destructive capitalism installed in our territory,” organizers said.
The clashes started when the column of protesters approached La Moneda Palace, the seat of Chile’s government.
Some marchers, most of them wearing hoods, attempted to remove the metal fences surrounding the presidential palace and riot police went into action with tear gas and water cannon.
The protesters responded with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Organizers’ principal demands were for the “demilitarization” of the southern region of Araucania, home to much of the Mapuche population, and the release of jailed indigenous leaders.
The “Mapuche conflict” has seen indigenous militants in Araucania torch vehicles, highway toll booths, lumber shipments and buildings as part of a struggle to reclaim lands the Mapuches lost during a 19th century “pacification” campaign.
The strife has led to the violent deaths of a number of Mapuche activists, police officers and farmers.
Patricia Lienlaf, a spokeswoman for the Meli Wixan Mapu group, told Radio Bio Bio that the Mapuches “are recovering their lands de facto because there has been a lack of political will on the part of the state.”
“The only response has been the criminalization of conflicts and repression,” she said.
Concentrated in Araucania and greater Santiago, Mapuches make up around 650,000 of Chile’s 17 million people.