From Socialist Voice, October 2010


Mapuche hunger strikes continue

Thirty-four Mapuche, members of the largest indigenous group in Chile, are continuing a hunger strike in a struggle to be acknowledged as political prisoners. They are protesting against both a lack of dialogue in solving their legitimate concerns and a failure to recognise that their struggle is a political one.
     The hunger strike began in July, with prisoners joining at intervals in various prisons. It has been generally ignored by the government and the media, but with the beginning of international media attention, pressure is mounting for a resolution.
     In the late nineteenth century Mapuche lands in southern Chile were forcibly stolen from them by the state. Over the last twenty years the Mapuche have begun to organise their communities in the legitimate claim that their lands be returned to them. They are also demanding respect for their political and cultural rights, which are, at best, ignored by the state.
     While some land has been restored, it is nowhere close to what is being demanded by the Mapuche. They have been using a strategy of occupying lands that were historically theirs but that are now being controlled by logging and mining companies and also being used in some cases as refuse dumps.
     These land occupations are usually dealt with harshly and with police brutality, which has seen three Mapuche protesters killed over the last four years. Mapuche have been rounded up and arrested by the state on the usual charges that the establishments around the world use against those who dare step out of line and challenge them. Many are now rotting in Chilean jails, charged with such crimes as invasion of property, illicit association, attempted homicide, and terrorism.
     The hunger strike will continue until such time as the government drops its cases and agrees to engage in meaningful talks with the Mapuche and to end its policy of criminalisation.
     This struggle is far greater than one solely about the Mapuche, as the Chilean state knows that behind recognition of the problem as a political one lies a bigger question: the neo-liberal economic model, which it does not want to substantially modify, because this is the route to development it wishes for the country.

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