SANTIAGO – Hooded assailants intercepted two freight trucks, pulled out the drivers and set the vehicles on fire, Chilean authorities said Wednesday.
The incident took place in the southern region of Araucania, where Mapuche Indian activists have torched vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a campaign to reclaim ancestral lands from agribusiness and forest products companies.
In the wee hours of Wednesday, the assailants felled trees to block a stretch of road between Angol, capital of Malleco province, and the town of Collipulli, police said.
When a truck loaded with lumber stopped in front of the barrier, the hooded attackers brandished guns to force the driver out and then set the vehicle on fire.
The assailants repeated the process with a second truck.
As they were burning the second vehicle, the driver of the first fled. He encountered a police patrol about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away, but the attackers were gone by the time the officers reached the scene.
The Chilean government is currently holding 106 Mapuches – some convicted, others awaiting trial – for acts of political violence in Araucania.
Thirty-two of those prisoners have been on hunger strike for more than 40 days to demand the scrapping of a draconian anti-terrorism law dating from the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet.
The anti-terror legislation allows the state to hold people for up to two years without charges, restrict defense attorneys’ access to evidence and use testimony from anonymous witnesses.
The hunger strikers also want the “demilitarization” of Araucania, the heartland of the 650,000-strong Mapuche nation, Chile’s largest indigenous group.
Two appellate courts ruled this week that prison authorities can force-feed the hunger strikers, while Catholic Bishop Manuel Camilo Vial is calling for dialogue to end the prisoners’ fast and resolve the issues raised by the Mapuches. EFE