SANTIAGO — Mapuche spiritual leader Celestino Córdova has been on a hunger strike for over 100 days. In 2014, Córdova was sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment for the murder of the Luchsinger Mackay couple. He is demanding that the government comply with Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and let him serve part of his sentence under house arrest.
It’s been 103 days since machi (Mapuche spiritual leader) Celestino Córdova started a hunger strike demanding that the government let him serve part of his 18-year sentence under house arrest. Córdova was convicted in 2014 for the murder of Werner Luchsinger and his spouse Vivianne Mackay, an arson attack in 2013.
The Mapuche machi has gone on several hunger strikes in prison, and relatives say he is in poor health. Córdova even recorded a farewell audio for his Mapuche community, in which he said that he is proud to give his life for his people.
Due to his worsening health status, on Jul. 15 Córdova was admitted into Hospital de Nueva Imperial, in Araucanía region. Last night he gave the government an ultimatum of 24 hours to meet the demands of Mapuche political prisoners, otherwise he would begin a dry hunger strike, meaning he will stop consuming liquids.
The government’s spokesman, Jaime Bellolio, told T13 Radio that the administration is worried about Córdova’s health. He said the machi’s health status is being monitored by both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice. Bellolio also said that the government can’t answer some of the requests. “If the court orders that the sentence be served in another place and in another way, of course, we will abide by it.”
The Luchsinger Mackay Case
On Jan. 4, 2013, Werner Luchsinger and Vivianne Mackay were killed in an arson attack, carried out by a group of Mapuche.
According to court documents, in the early hours of Jan. 4, several people sneaked onto the property and shot at the couple’s house. Werner Luchsinger fired back, but the house was already burning. His wife died in the fire.
Before he died, Werner Luchsinger called the police. Minutes later, Córdova was arrested 2km from the scene. He had a gunshot wound to the neck. According to an investigation, he had been shot by Werner Luchsinger while trying to escape the crime scene.
Córdova claims that there is no evidence that he was involved in the attack, saying the case is “politically motivated” and an attempt to stop the Mapuche from reclaiming their lands.
The trial began in Feb. 2014 and Córdova was the only defendant after 11 other suspects were released for insufficient evidence and inconsistencies in the investigation. None of the parties was satisfied with Córdova’s sentence. The machi’s spokesperson said it was not a fair trial, and then-Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick said the court should have given a higher sentence.
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Other Hunger Strikes
Machi Celestino Córdova started his first hunger strike in May 2014. In March 2018, he went on another hunger strike for more than 50 days.
In Jul. 2018, Córdova stopped eating again, demanding a 48-hour leave of absence so that he could visit his rewe (sacred altar) and renew his energy. The request was approved.
On Nov. 14, 2018, Camilo Catrillanca (24) was murdered. He was the grandson of a prominent Mapuche leader and was shot by a police officer in the back of the head. His death caused outrage among the indigenous community.
After Catrillanca’s death, machi Celestino Córdova started yet another hunger strike, in support of the victim’s family, demanding justice for the murder. This hunger strike lasted 13 days and Córdova stopped after Catrillanca’s father asked him to.
The Reasons Behind His Current Hunger Strike
Now, Córdova went on hunger strike to push his demand of serving part of his sentence under house arrest due to the coronavirus crisis until the pandemic is over. His argument is based on ILO Convention 169.
Chile ratified the convention in 2008. It says that states will respect customs of indigenous people, also when executing sentences. This means, Mapuche, who see themselves as part of their environment, can ask to serve sentences ‘on their soil.’ Also, the ILO recommends that indigenous people serve their sentences in their communities.
But some points of the agreement remain unclear. There are currently no provisions in Chilean law to allow for a change after a case has been ruled. Interior Minister,Víctor Pérez said the main concern is to save Córdova’s life “and talk to everyone involved with prison regulations so we can find a way to end the hunger strike.”
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