SANTIAGO – Another church was set ablaze on Tuesday in southern Chile amid the intensifying campaign of the Mapuche indigenous people to reclaim ancestral lands, authorities said.
Over the past two years, groups of masked Indians have set fire to 12 churches in the zone, 10 Catholic ones and two Protestant ones, half of which have been located in the municipality of Ercilla.
The latest incident occurred about 2 a.m. in the municipality of Cañete.
At the site of the fire a poster was found bearing slogans against the Catholic bishop of Villarrica, Javier Stegmeier, whom the writers of the slogans accuse of being complicit in the “state repression” against the Mapuche people.
Also on Tuesday morning, another group of unknown arsonists set fire to a shack in the Lleu-Lleu Lake sector.
The arson comes after the meetings the governor of the Araucania region, Andres Jouannet, held with representatives of the Catholic Church to seek a solution to the violent episodes.
Recent years have seen Mapuche militants torch vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a struggle to reclaim lands lost during a late-19th-century “pacification” campaign against the indigenous people of the Araucania and Bio Bio regions.
The conflict has claimed the lives of Mapuche activists, police and farmers, while dozens of indigenous people have been sent to prison, mainly for crimes against property.
“The burning of churches is the greatest intolerance ever seen,” Jouannet said in remarks to the media on Tuesday.
“If they burn one of our churches, we’re going to rebuild it and we’re going to do so with the community. And if there are 13, 14 or 20, we’re going to rebuild them. What cannot be accepted is intolerance, attacking the freedom of religion and the faith,” he added.
“We’re going to rebuild all the chapels and churches, and quickly,” he said.