SANTIAGO — Arson attacks in the southern regions of Chile have become more common. The province of Arauco, located in the Biobío Region, has seen an increase in these incidents. September is expected to be the most violent month so far, as 10 attacks were registered in the first 10 days alone.
The ongoing Mapuche conflict has been more tense in the past few months. The province of Arauco is among the most affected. In the first 10 days of September, the area has already experienced 10 arson attacks and incidents, including the murder of a 21-year-old man.
Biobío Governor Sergio Giacaman, told BioBioChile that there has been an escalation of violence in the province of Arauco in 2020, with 55 violent incidents reported in the past four months. In June, there were 16; in July, 14; in August, 15; and so far in September, 10.
One Incident After Another in Arauco
Among the various attacks of the past 10 days in the province was a shooting on Sept. 1, which involved three police officers.
A different incident occurred on Sept. 2, north of the town of Contulmo, where a group of people burned five lumber machines, and, before leaving, stole a car to escape.
The attack that resulted in the death of a 21-year-old man happened four days later, on the night of Sept. 6, in the district of Cañete. Two arson attacks were registered that night. During the first, a house and a warehouse burned to the ground. The second left a summer cabin in ashes. Police officers said they found flyers in both places that read “freedom to Mapuche political prisoners.”
According to Cooperativa, the attackers who burned the houses later stole two vehicles to escape the scene, but came across another car a few miles away and started shooting. One of the bullets hit Moisés Orellana, who died as a result of the attack.
After shooting Orellana, the individuals abandoned the vehicles they had stolen and burned them. The next day, prosecutor Marcela Cartagena confirmed that the same people who burned the houses had killed Orellana.
Several authorities reacted to the news. Among them, Interior Minister Víctor Pérez, who said that “there are groups trying to establish a policy of terror.” Referring to the possibility that these attacks are linked to the Mapuche conflict, the Interior Ministry undersecretary, Juan Francisco Galli, said that “no social demand justifies these levels of violence.”
Despite the authorities’ call to reduce violence, more attacks have been registered in the province. On the night of Sept. 8, three houses were burned in the Contulmo district. During the same night, a group of people burned five trucks and a crane in the district of Cañete.
Violence Coming From Different Sides
Although some sectors point to the Mapuche community for the violence in Wallmapu (Mapuche territory), violence comes from both sides. In early August, an armed mob attacked a building that was occupied by Mapuche activists. Many complained this attack was racially motivated.
A more recent event was identified by Lieutenant Colonel Juan Pablo Ureta, from the Arauco prefecture, on Sept. 10. Three men were detained for the attempted murder of indigenous people. Police raided two properties of the accused and found armament.
Among the findings were a 22-caliber rifle with ammunition, a 38-caliber revolver with five shots, a blank revolver, three bulletproof vests, three rifle magazines with ammunition, and four portable radios. The three detainees — that are father and sons — will now face charges in the court of Cañete.
The Government’s Response
Due to the rise of violence and the need to resolve the historical Mapuche conflict, the Minister of Social Development, Karla Rubilar, announced the creation of the “Wallmapu Committee,” on Sept. 8. The aim is to resolve the conflicts in the La Araucanía region, and the province of Arauco in the Biobío Region.
The committee will be chaired by President Sebastián Piñera himself, and composed of: Interior Minister Víctor Pérez; Interior Ministry Undersecretary Juan Francisco Galli; Minister of Justice Hernán Larraín; Minister of Public Works Alfredo Moreno; and Minister of Social Development, Rubilar.
According to Rubilar, the Wallmapu Committee will meet each Tuesday and will be “in complete coordination with the governors of La Araucanía and Arauco.” The minister recognized there is a pending debt with the Mapuche nation. “We want to give a clear signal that the commitments we made in matters of dialogue, recognition, and appreciation (of the Mapuche people) … must be materialized before the end of the presidency term.”
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant