Violence in Curacautín: How the Attack on Mapuche Activists Evolved

CURACAUTÍN – The town of Curacautín in the southern La Araucanía region was the center of another episode in the history of violence in the region. An angry mob attacked the city’s town hall, which was occupied by Mapuche activists. Footage on social media indicates the attacks were racially motivated.

After Mapuche activists occupied the town hall of Curacautín in the south of Chile, as well as the town halls of Victoria, Ercilla, and Traiguén elsewhere in the region, an angry mob took matter into its own hands on Saturday night, Aug. 1. A large group of armed residents descended on the town hall, entered the building, and attacked the occupants. Local police present stood by without trying to separate the groups.

Footage indicates the police even supported the attackers. The nationwide curfew was not respected by the group, and, upon its arrival at about 9 p.m., tensions were already rising according to people living near the town hall. For several days, organized groups on social media had been calling for attacks on the Mapuche activists in the town hall. According to residents from Curacautín, most men present at the attack were lumber workers and truck drivers.

The chants sung by the crowd indicate that this was no attempt to retake the town hall: it was an attack directed at the Mapuche. Amid the angry shouts of “Indians out!”, the activists’ vehicles parked outside the town hall were set on fire. An hour later, the police decided to open the barricaded doors of the town hall, which allowed the angry mob to enter the building, where some 20 Mapuche activists, among them women and children, had gathered.

The men that entered the building were armed with sticks and bats, something that was called for in a viral Whatsapp audio from a local union leader. One hour after the crowd attacked the Mapuche, the town halls of Ercilla and Traiguén, also occupied by Mapuche, were set on fire. According to local authorities, both were left in ruins.

While police in Curacautín arrested the Mapuche activists, the participants in the attack were still able to harass the detainees. Video footage shows that the police offered the Mapuche little protection. While the indigenous activists were being taken away, some severely wounded, the crowd started jumping and singing, “Who doesn’t jump is a Mapuche!” The town hall of Curacautín was completely destroyed during the raid.

The attacks in Curacautín, Ercilla, Traiguén, and Victoria further highlight the ongoing tensions in the La Araucanía region. The occupations of town halls had begun last week in support of the dozen Mapuche prisoners who have been on hunger strike for nearly three months. At the same time, arson attacks on lumber machinery and vehicles continue. The appointment of Victor Pérez as new Interior Minister likely will not ease these tensions, because Pérez has promised a hardline approach to the region.

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