Rural Violence in the Araucanía Region Reaches High Levels

ARAUCANÍA — Cases of rural violence have exploded in the Araucanía region over the past year. Victims of the increased rate of violence have taken drastic measures to call for change. The government proposes the “Arauco Plan” to combat unrest in the region. 

Rural violence in the Araucanía region has increased by a drastic rate since 2018. According to figures by the Public Ministry, between January and September of this year, over 65 violent incidents were reported. In the same months of 2018, only 38 cases of rural violence were reported. This is an increase of 71%.

The most frequent crimes reported in recent months are incendiary attacks on farms, burning of machinery and shooting at police units. Since the incidents occur in extremely rural areas, the perpetrators are often unknown and not prosecuted.

One such incident took place on Aug. 31, when eight vehicles were burned in an arson attack, in the city of Contulmo, on the border of Araucanía and Biobío. 

On Oct. 8, a particularly shocking attack occurred.  A truck driver was shot at a farm in Cañete in the province of Arauco. The driver was injured and transferred to hospital but survived the attack. Minister of Internal Affairs, Andrés Chadwick, condemned the attack as one without “any justification.”

René Muñoz, manager of the Forest Contractors Association, also commented on the attack, “We have been saying this for a long time, they are going to start attacking forest workers, and we are going to have fatalities if the Government does not apply a state of emergency to the area of Arauco.”

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Victims’ Response

The National Confederation of Truck Owners requested a hearing from Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick as a result of these violent attacks that affected members of the drivers’ union in the Araucanía and Biobío regions.

A large group of vehicles blocked Route 5 South in protest on Oct. 10 in Victoria, a city located in the Araucanía region, according to Diario Concepción. The drivers called for greater protection during their work so that they would not be at risk to violent attacks.

Violence in the south is not just restricted to truck drivers and their vehicles. 

25 families who are victims of rural violence in the area of Lake Lanalhue have petitioned the state to buy their land from them. A representative for the families explained to the Ministry of the Interior that they do not want to continue living in an area where their lives are at risk. 

The Root of the Violence in Araucanía

There is a conflicting understanding of why violence has increased to such an extent in the region. A number of different factors have been proposed

One concern is that the military arm of the Coordinadora Arauco Malleco (CAM), known as Organos de Resistencia Territorial, is still in operation and is behind the attacks. The group has already claimed responsibility for a few of the incidents.

CAM is a Mapuche organization which seeks to reclaim former Mapuche land. Formed in 1998, members of the group have historically employed arson attacks against forestry organizations. In 2017, President Piñera labelled the organization a terrorist group.

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The Prosecutor’s Office of the Araucanía region is also considering what they call the “Catrillanca factor” as one of the motivations behind the attacks. 

Camilo Catrillanca was shot and killed on Nov. 14, 2018 by the Chilean police. The incident led to numerous protests against police violence. The Mapuche people cite his death as a representation of the injustices the Mapuche face and a catalyst to take greater action.

However, the representative of the Araucanía region, Jorge Atton, is reluctant to completely attribute the violent attacks to the Mapuche. He said: “If you separate the cases, you discover that there is rural violence but also theft of animals, cars and wood and drug trafficking. This is no different from urban crime, but it is misconstrued as Mapuche protests.”

The representative of Biobío, Sergio Giacaman, is also reluctant to attribute a concrete cause for the resurgence of violence. In an interview with La Tercera, Giacaman did not directly answer questions on the origins of the violence, instead choosing to emphasize that their “main focus is to ensure the safety of people.”

New Government Plan

On Sept. 27, the government announced their “Arauco Plan” to support the victims of rural violence and the unions of production. 

The measures included in the plan are valued at around CLP $14 billion (USD $19.6 million) and will be put into place between 2019 and 2021. In addition to security measures, the government plans to improve road connectivity to Mapuche communities and offer state insurance to those who are victims of rural violence.

Representative Giacaman emphasized that the new plan is “the result of dialogue” and not violence.

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