Mapuche Prisoners: Different Country Same Result.

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Mapuche demanding their land back.

In the past month, I have come down hard on the Cuba regime for its complicity in the murder of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Out of the nations’ governments  in the world deserving of condemnation for their actions, Cuba is one of the easiest targets. It is so because as time has marched on the 50+ years of the Castro revolution, there are no longer any screens for their government to hide behind. The Chilean government, very recently, has participated in similar political persecution as that of Cuba–imprisoning Indigenous Mapuche individuals because they are “terrorists”.

Land Dispute

First, it must be acknowledged that the dispute in Chile with its indigenous people would occur similarly in the United States if the latter, at the onset Colonization, was not so sparsely populated with indigenous people. Yes, the U.S. was founded upon genocide because it was an easy task.

Fast forwarding to 2010, where nearly 700,000 Mapuches live, making up 4% of Chile’s population. The Mapuche live, for the most part, in rural areas. According to the Mapuche, their land has been stolen by lumber companies with the full consent of the Chilean government. From the New York Times:

“…the Mapuches, complaining of false land titles and damage to the environment and their traditional way of life, are struggling to take back the land they say is still theirs. As their confrontation with corporate interests has grown more violent, Chile’s nominally Socialist government has sought to blunt the indigenous movement by invoking a modified version of an antiterrorist law that dates from the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, 1973 to 1990.

Despite international protests, 18 Mapuche leaders are scheduled to go on trial soon, accused under a statute that prohibits ”generating fear among sectors of the population.'”

At least four of those 18, from the research I conducted, were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The statute’s wording is eerily similar to the baseless “public disturbance” violations employed in Cuba. For example, a really unpleasant looking/acting person can generate fear among sectors in a population. Seriously, though, it is a broadly defined criminal law designed to target individuals who would otherwise not be punishable or punished as severely for the alleged crimes they committed. The Mapuche did commit what can be considered a crime: Arson and Criminal Mischief. They burned down houses and forests owned by major lumber companies. However, the violence they partook is not surprising; their goal–to take back their land–is opposed by powerful financial interests backed up by powerful governments, that of Chile and the U.S.

Specifically, in 2004, Chilean wood exports to the U.S. amounted to $600 million a year, at least . The wood is harvested largely in Mapuche claimed territory. Therefore, the likelihood of obtaining their goal is about zero percent. The violence that they engaged in only marginally increased the potential for their success; the Chilean government was forced to use force to quell the unrest, so much that they resorted to a law that surely violates generally accepted principles of Human Rights.

One may claim that other governments in South America have spoke out in support of the Mapuche, but they are all the same despite the ideological claims they make; financial interests first, everything else second.

Mapuche Hunger Strikers

Four Mapuche political prisoners went on a two month hunger strike in 2006 to protest their unjustly severe punishment. They stopped the strike when a law, Ley Navarro, to strike out the Pinochet-era terrorrism law was introduced. It appears that they are still in prison and the law is still in effect.

After the mammoth earthquake recently in Chile, the political prisoners are in bad shape, as states a letter written by them from Lebu Prison:

We are living in a crisis here at the Lebu Jail; it is deplorable, stressful, and agonizing because in the four days after the earthquake, Lebu being on of the most damaged cities, we find our selves without light, not even water or food, and the authorities have totally abandoned us; we have begun to ration bread and food due to the continued aftershocks, we are sleeping on the patio, outside in all that is available, couches. Furthermore, we are being continuously denied information on what has happened without access to any type of news.

The excessive imprisonment, along with the clear ignorance by the Chilean government of the Mapuche claims to land, is a form of persecution that should draw strong criticism internationally.  Unfortunately, this will not occur because no one truly cares for the Mapuche outside of the Mapuche.

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