SANTIAGO – Eleven Mapuche Indians were arrested Wednesday morning in the southern Chilean region of Araucania in connection with the January 2013 arson deaths of an elderly couple.
Werner Luchsinger Lemp, 75, and his wife, Vivian Mackay Gonzalez, 69, died on Jan. 4, 2013, in a blaze at their farmhouse near Vilcun.
The crime, for which – so far – a Mapuche “machi,” or shaman, Celestino Cordova, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison, came against the backdrop of the “Mapuche conflict,” which has seen indigenous militants in Araucania torch vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a struggle to reclaim lands the Mapuches lost during a 19th century “pacification” campaign.
Those lands are now largely occupied by lumber and agricultural interests.
Wednesday’s arrests were undertaken by some 100 police led by prosecutor Cristian Paredes in an operation that included 20 raids at different locations in the municipality of Vilcun.
Among those arrested, it turned out, was a woman identified as Francisca Linconao Huircapan, another Mapuchi machi, in whose home the incendiary attack on the victims’ house is said to have been planned.
The woman had already been arrested in the case in January 2014, but she was cleared and was eventually awarded a judgment of 30 million pesos ($44,000) from the government for damage to her reputation.
In Santiago, it was reported that the acting deputy interior minister, Luis Correa, traveled to La Araucania to file charges against the 11 detainees under Chile’s anti-terrorism law, a legacy of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
The conflict in Araucania has claimed the lives of Mapuche activists, police and farmers, while dozens of indigenous people have been sent to prison for attacks and setting vehicles ablaze, along with burning agricultural and lumbering machinery, rural properties and forests, among other crimes.
Mapuches make up around 650,000 of Chile’s 17 million people and are concentrated in Araucania and greater Santiago.