SANTIAGO – Families of the roughly three-dozen jailed Mapuche Indian activists on hunger strike said Tuesday that they will not take part in a dialogue with the Chilean government.
The government’s initiative “does not have the goal of resolving the demands of the (hunger) strikers,” Mapuche spokesperson Natividad Llanquileo said outside a prison in the southern city of Concepcion, dismissing the planned talks as a “media show.”
President Sebastian Piñera announced the dialogue last Friday at a ceremony on the eve of Chile’s independence bicentennial.
Though the opening of talks on Indian grievances is one demand of the Mapuche hunger strikers, Piñera did not address more immediate concerns about the terms of their incarceration and prosecution.
“We have a debt to our original peoples, and particularly to the Mapuche people,” the president said, heralding “Plan Araucania” as package of economic and social measures aimed at improving the Mapuches’ quality of life and expanding opportunities for their economic development.
The talks are to take place at Ñielol mountain in the poor southern region of Araucania, heartland of the 650,000-strong Mapuche nation, which lost 95 percent of its land during a “pacification” campaign at the end of the 19th century.
In recent years, Mapuche militants have been torching vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a campaign to reclaim ancestral lands from the agribusiness concerns and forest products companies that now control much of Araucania.
Successive governments in Santiago have responded mainly with repression, applying a draconian anti-terrorism law imposed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
The legislation allows the state to hold people for up to two years without charges, to restrict defense attorneys’ access to evidence and to use testimony from anonymous witnesses.
Chile’s government is currently holding 106 Mapuches – most of them still awaiting trial – for politically motivated crimes against property.
The Mapuche prisoners on hunger strike are demanding the scrapping of the anti-terror act and the “demilitarization” of Araucania.
“If there is a fatal outcome (to the hunger strike), the government of Chile will be the guilty party,” Llanquileo told Radio Bio Bio on Tuesday.
Both Llanquileo and Rodrigo Curipan, a member of the Mapuche parliament, ruled out taking part in this week’s talks at Ñielol mountain.
The conditions and agenda for the proposed dialogue “were imposed” by the government and have no bearing on resolving the prisoners’ hunger strike, opposition Sen. Jaime Quintana said.
“This is a monologue, comparable to a ceremony for the delivery of subsidies to the indigenous world,” he said. “But a dialogue table, it’s not.”
Speaking for the government, presidential chief of staff Cristian Larroulet said that while no one is excluded from the dialogue, the talks aimed at ending the hunger strike, mediated by Catholic Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati of Concepcion, are separate from the process at Ñielol mountain.
Internationally acclaimed novelist Isabel Allende, winner of Chile’s 2010 National Literature Prize, used the word “terrible” to describe the situation of the Mapuche hunger strikers.
“They could die, several of them are already on the edge of dying,” she told reporters after receiving the Bicentennial Medal from the Chilean Congress. EFE