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Latino Daily News

Sunday September 12, 2010

Hunger Strike of Indigenous Mapuche Detainees in Chile draws Attention

President Sebastian Pinera has asked the Catholic Church to help negotiate an end to the nearly two-month hunger strike.

The Mapuches claim that the anti-terrorism laws that the government uses to prosecute them are unfair. Some specific examples they site are that the out dated law permits masked witnesses -which allow anonymous testimony to be heard and recorded, extended time that the Mapuches can be held in custody with out any communication and double prison sentences.

The Mapuches have demonstrated to recover lands that they claim are theirs based on treaties and autonomy promises made over the years. 14 detainees have been on a hunger strike since July 12 calling first for a repeal of the Pinochet era law, but they also are demanding better property rights for the indigenous people of Chile.

Juana Reiman, mother of José Huenuche, one of the hunger strikers in Concepción :
“My son was arrested 15 months ago under the Antiterrorist Law and still has not been charged. This is why they have decided to go on hunger strike. The law is unjust. Not only do we want to see the law retracted, we want to end the impunity with which the police act. They come to the towns looking for trouble and that is why my son is in prison even though he has done nothing wrong.

They have all lost a lot of weight and their faces are looking thin. We don’t have doctors though, so we don’t really know how serious their condition is. Yet the government and the courts say nothing. The press is also silent, as usual.

The situation of the Mapuche in the south where I live does not concern other Chileans. We are poor people; we don’t have access to the same kind of goods as they do, including computers to get our voice heard. Even the Mapuche who have gone to the city in the hope of improving their lives have turned their back on us and we feel very discriminated against.

Our struggle has been a long one, centuries and centuries. We want our land rights to be recognized. But firstly, we want the political prisoners to be released and the antiterrorist law to be dropped.”

The Catholic Church has agreed to help negotiate an end to the hunger strike.