Dozens of young Mapuche activists in Chile have gone on hunger strike to demand the temporary release from prison of spiritual leader Celestino Cordova in order for him to observe his 'rewe' in a sacred Indigenous ritual.
Manuel Baltierra, 38, and Cristobal Reumay, 21, inspired two dozen Indigenous youths to take to the steps of La Moneda Palace – the seat of the federal government – and demand a 48-hour reprieve for Cordova in order to attend the ceremony conducted periodically by Machi spiritual leaders.
Every Machi – the main spiritual, health and political authority of the Mapuche communities – has to renovate the rewe along with the community in order to renovate their own energy. The rewe is a sort of spiritual pole at Mapuche communities, the center of their activities which serves a fundamental role in society.
Cordova, together with three others, was sentenced for the death of businessman Werner Luchsinger and his wife, Vivianne Mackay, in a 2013 fire at their home in Vicuña, in the Araucania region.
During the trial, prosecutors said "hooded men" entered the couple's property, spreading pamphlets on the death anniversary of a young Mapuche activist who was shot in the back by police, close to where Luchsinger and MacKay lived.
According to the court, Luchsinger fired at one of the trespassers and the men set fire to his home, killing the couple inside. Cordova was arrested that night covered in mud and with a gun wound to his hand. He denies any wrongdoing.
Cordova has spent more than 20 days on a second hunger strike to demand his temporary release for the ceremony, but authorities have denied his requests.
He suspended his first strike after 102 days, suffering serious health issues. People close to Cordova have said his health is deteriorating, with muscle and bone pain and his organs are beginning to fail.
The strikers, all students from the Architecture School of the University of Chile, say they will not leave the premises until the shaman is allowed to attend the rewe.