TEMUCO – Mapuche leader and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Alberto Curamil was acquitted and released from jail. Curamil was arrested in 2018 for alleged involvement in a robbery, but the indigenous community believed his trial was a political prosecution because of his activism for the Mapuche people. Curamil was released after 16 months in preventive detention.
After over a year of preventive detention, Mapuche logko (leader) Alberto Curamil was acquitted of all charges by a court in Temuco on December 13. His release was widely celebrated by the Mapuche community.
Curamil was arrested along with Mapuche werken (authority) Álvaro Millalén, José Cáceres, and Víctor Llanquileo after being accused of robbing a branch of Los Héroes pension fund in Galvarino in August 2018.
Millalén was freed along with Curamil, while Cáceres and Llanquileo were convicted for the robbery and other charges, according to news outlet BioBioChile.
The Mapuche community never doubted Curamil’s innocence. The logko’s daughter, Belén Curamil, as her father’s spokeswoman and representative since his imprisonment, told CNN Chile that “I am very happy because we knew they were innocent…If they were in jail for so long, it was because they raised their voices and fought for our territory, for the freedom of our mapu [‘land’ in English], our people, and the Mapuche”
Curamil, Millalén, Cáceres, and Llanquileo were first accused of robbery in April 2018, based on an anonymous call to police. On August 14 of that year, the four men were arrested and put in preventive detention, while investigations were underway. The investigations extended for over a year, while La Araucanía authorities pursued charges that might have resulted in a prison sentence of over 50 years.
Ultimately, the investigations failed to prove Curamil and Millalén were involved. Among other things, Curamil reportedly wasn’t even present at the crime scene.
A Leader and Lauded Environmental Activist
Curamil, also a spokesman of the Mapuche Territory Alliance, is known by the community as a restless environmental leader. Under his leadership, Mapuche people and environmental activists stopped the construction of two hydroelectric projects in 2016.
Because of his hard work, Curamil was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in April 2019. Also known as the “Green Nobel Prize,” the award recognizes “individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk,” according to the Goldman Prize website.
Camila Huecho is a journalism student at Universidad de La Frontera in Temuco, currently interning at Chile Today. As a freelance illustrator and Fellow at the Melton Foundation, she works to bring information and cultures together through communications and art.