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Unrest in La Araucanía: Government Deploys Army

TEMUCO – The Chilean government announced it is sending 80 members of its special forces to the La Araucanía region, where tensions between the Mapuche communities and local authorities have risen to a new high. The indigenous population in the region complains of increasing police oppression during the pandemic. Arson attacks in the zone are allegedly linked to the more violent resistance by Mapuche.

The unrest in the La Araucanía region is reaching a boiling point, with ongoing arson attacks on lumber machinery, vehicles, and houses. The Chilean government has announced the deployment of armed troops in the region, a move that according to Mapuche leaders is unlikely to calm the tension. The leaders demand an end to what they see as state repression in the region, better treatment of what they call political prisoners, and an in-depth investigation into the death of Alejandro Treuquil, a Mapuche leader killed early June near Collipulli.

Already before the death of Treuquil unrest was building in southern Chile. In April, in the Arauco province in the Biobío region, an armed group occupied a bridge and set a car on fire. Regional authorities invoked the Anti-Terrorism Law, while Mapuche communities in the region openly distanced themselves from the violence.

A photo of the armed group, published on social media after the attack in Tirua.

Further south, in La Araucanía, tensions seem to have increased since the killing of Treuquil. According to his community, the Mapuche leader was ambushed in a rural area outside of the town of Collipulli, weeks after he denounced increasing police repression in his community.

Ever since, the region has seen a series of arson attacks, often against lumber machinery, vehicles, and houses belonging to large companies that operate on what the Mapuche consider their ancestral territory. So far, over 12 attacks and three bombings, on telephone poles and cars, have been registered, although it remains unclear whether all these incidents can be linked to Mapuche resistance.

Earlier this week, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel and Defense Minister Alberto Espina traveled to the region to coordinate operations against the attacks. “The Armed Forces are going to increase their personnel and military means to control and prevent these attacks. These criminal acts are not acceptable, and the use of force will be deployed according to the law, because our duty is to imprison the violators and protect the citizens,” Minister Espina said.

Mapuche communities ask for dialogue, and state that a military presence will only make things worse. Experts also warn that sending in the army is not the solution. In an opinion piece published on website CIPER, political scientist Claudio Fuentes argues that sending the armed forces to the region is not only a failure of the local authorities and the integrational policies, but, even more dangerous, “the acceptance of the thesis of the involvement of armed institutions to confront an ‘internal enemy’. For the first time since the return to democracy, political authorities openly justify the involvement of the armed forces in controlling crime.” Fuentes claims the authorities are not seeking a peaceful solution, are not really seeking dialogue. The La Araucanía region is being conquered again, he warns.

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