TEMUCO – In at least three prisons in southern Chile, Mapuche prisoners have been on a hunger strike for weeks. The prisoners demand that the government comply with Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization. Among them is Celestino Córdova, a spiritual leader of the Mapuche people serving an 18-year sentence, who was brought to a hospital last week in critical condition.
Eight prisoners in Angol, eleven prisoners in Lebú, and machi (spiritual leader) Celestino Córdova in Temuco: Mapuche prisoners in Chile who have been on hunger strike for weeks. Some are still awaiting trial, while others argue that Chile is not complying with international treaties it has ratified. In the case of Córdova, for example, the machi demands authorities let him practice his spirituality through a special ceremony, something that has been refused so far.
Córdova is serving 18 years in prison in Temuco for his involvement in the Luchsinger-Mackay case. In that case, an elderly couple was killed when their house was set on fire. According to Córdova, his case is politically motivated, and he is innocent of all charges. He demands that his case be reviewed and points to C169, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989, from the International Labour Organization (ILO), an international convention ratified by Chile that underscores the special position indigenous peoples have in society.
After the government rejected his claims, Córdova started a hunger strike over 70 days ago. The effects on his health have been severe, his spokesperson Giovanna Tafilo warned last week. Córdova was transferred to a hospital in the region. Despite his delicate condition, the machi announced he will also start a dry strike, meaning he won’t consume any more liquids.
Hunger Strikes Across the South
To support Cordova, 11 Mapuche prisoners in Lebú in the Biobío region joined the hunger strike two weeks ago. According to health experts, apart from the physical health dangers, many of the hunger strikers are also suffering from severe mental deterioration. Biobío Governor Sergio Giacaman said that the group is being monitored, emphasizing however that its members are serving sentences for various crimes, “including murder and robbery.”
In Angol, in the Araucanía region, eight Mapuche have been on hunger strike for over two months. Two of them are now is bad health, Giovanna Tafilo told Cooperativa. “On average, the prisoners have lost 20 kilos.”
She pointed out that, whereas the police officers in the case of Mapuche Camilo Catrillanca were allowed to serve their prison sentences at home, the Mapuche prisoners are not allowed to return to their communities, despite Chile’s ratification of C169. Six prisoners on hunger strike in Angol have not even faced trial yet, Tafilo said, and are being held “for precautionary measures.”
The Chilean Ministry of Justice has announced a series of conversations with representatives from communities and international organizations, but Tafilo fears for the outcome of the hunger strike. “The most probable outcome is a fatal one. It would be terrible for the Mapuche people if a Mapuche spiritual authority dies in prison.”
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.