SANTIAGO — After 107 days on hunger strike, Mapuche spiritual leader Celestino Córdova decided to stop his protest. Two months of negotiations with the government ended on Aug. 18, as they reached an agreement. Creating special modules for indigenous people in some prisons is part of the concessions.
Three months into a hunger strike, and after recording a farewell audio for his indigenous community, the spiritual leader decided to discontinue his pressure measure. The decision came this Tuesday, Aug. 18, following an agreement with the Chilean government.
Córdova has been serving an 18-year sentence for the double homicide of an elderly couple in an arson attack in 2013. He started a hunger strike hoping the government would comply with Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and let him serve part of his sentence under house arrest in his community.
The political and social conflicts in Southern Chile have been at a boiling point this month. Apart from Córdova, other Mapuche prisoners have been on hunger strikes at different jails. Their protests motivated other Mapuche community members to occupy several municipal buildings in support of the pressure measures. Some resulted in violent clashes with civilians and the police, as was the case at Curacautín’s city town hall, which was attacked by an angry mob.
Agreement Between Celestino Córdova And The Government
Yesterday, Aug. 18, Sebastián Valenzuela, Undersecretary of Justice, spelled out the deal between Celestino Córdova and the Chilean government. Several organizations got involved in finding the best solution, such as the National Institute of Human Rights, and the UN’s Human Rights Office for South America.
The government official mentioned a roadmap to follow. The first step is that, once the machi’s health is restored, he can apply to join a Center for Education and Work (CET). At these centers, inmates can work and earn money to support their families and slowly integrate back into society.
Another concession, having joined the CET, would allow Córdova 30-hour leaves to visit his rewe (sacred altar). However, that would still depend on how the Covid-19 pandemic and the health crisis evolve.
About the other inmates on hunger strikes, government officials said that if they break their strikes, corrections officers will not take administrative actions against them. They also said that CET applications sent in by indigenous people will be given priority. The highlight of the agreement is that in prisons where there is a high population of indigenous inmates there will be special cell areas set apart for them.
Political Sectors Divided Over The Issue
Ever since negotiations began with Machi Cordova’s representatives there have been differing opinions from politicians and public figures. One the first to react to the concessions was Jorge Luchsinger Mackay, son of the couple Córdova supposedly murdered. According to El Mostrador, he voiced his discontent over the agreement and said “for me, he is not a leader, he is a murderer that has to serve his sentence.”
In an interview with CNN Chile, senator Iván Moreira – for the Independent Union Democratic party- said that this was a “slap in the face” to all the residents of La Araucanía region because, with extortion, a murderer was able to get prison benefits.
Undersecretary of Justice, Sebastián Valenzuela, countered Moreira’s remarks saying that no special benefits or privileges were granted that were not part of the existing regulations. He added that “this is not only about Córdova. Part of the compromises in our proposal apply across the board.”
In an interview with Radio Universo, Minister of Social Development, Karla Rubilar, defended the government’s decision to negotiate with the Mapuche leader. She assured “this agreement opens the path that we must go down in La Araucanía.”
As for Celestino Córdova, one of his spokespersons read a statement by the machi where he said: “I have humbly contributed to the struggle of the Mapuche nation. The outcome is not entirely satisfactory, but I have engaged in this hunger strike with dignity and put my life on the line to forward the struggle step by step.”
Edited by Claudio Moraga
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