SANTIAGO – A Chilean truckdrivers’ union demonstrated Saturday outside Santiago to protest against attacks in which their vehicles were torched in the southern part of the country, though the protesters were few in number and no incidents were reported, police officials said.
The demonstration was organized by the National Freight Transporters Confederation one year after the arrival in Santiago of a caravan of trucks destroyed in arson attacks during the so-called Mapuche conflict in the southern Araucania region.
The union, which according to its leaders has some 1,300 members, announced at the beginning of this week that around 150 trucks would come together from the north and south of the country and meet in the Peaje de Angostura Plaza, at some 55 kilometers (34 miles) south of Santiago to demand a government crackdown on the hooded attackers.
Jose Perez, president of the union, later announced that the number of trucks was a little less than 30, “because we don’t want to cause problems,” but left the possibility open that they might demonstrate in front of La Moneda Palace, the seat of government.
Eventually around a dozen trucks pulled up along the route without blocking any of its lanes.
Nonetheless, Sergio Perez called the demonstration a success and said that this Friday they had agreed with police to reduce the number of trucks “so as not to complicate things.”
But the union boss repeated his demands for a tougher policy against the attacks in the south and in general against all crime that harms trucking.
“We want a law that punishes those hooded criminals and also the terrorists,” he said, adding that the regions of O’Higgins and Maule south of Santiago are currently experiencing assaults on trucks transporting fruit.
In recent years, according to the union, some 400 trucks have been burned in southern Chile as part of the Mapuche conflict, which pits this Indian community that demands the return of its ancestral lands against agricultural and forestry companies that have legal title to the territory.
The demonstration took place just hours after a truck carrying lumber in the Araucania region was torched by unknown persons.
According to police sources, the attack occurred on the road between the towns of Vilcun and Lautaro, at some 640 kilometers (400 miles) from Santiago, and the perpetrators left signs at the scene with slogans demanding freedom for Mapuche “political prisoners.”