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News > Chile

Chile: Mapuches Say 'Not to Blame' As Gov't Accuses Them of Setting Major Fires

  • Fires in Bio Bio province in Chile, Jan. 2017. Major fires that began in Jan. 2019 have destroyed 53,000 hectares.

    Fires in Bio Bio province in Chile, Jan. 2017. Major fires that began in Jan. 2019 have destroyed 53,000 hectares. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 February 2019

Responding to a government official, Marcelo Catrillanca says the Mapuche aren't to blame for the major flames that have destroyed 53,000 hectares so far.

Some 53,000 hectares of forest and grassland have burned as major fires continue to spread across southern and central Chile since last month, but Mapuche leaders who live in the devastated areas say the government is wrongly blaming them for starting the flames.

  Chile Fights Massive Forest Fires as President Grants Himself Sweeping Powers

According to National Emergency Office (Onemi) National Director Ricardo Toro, there are 93 “forest fires, 42 that are active, 51 that are under control." Toro said in a press conference that three other fires have been put out. There are three registered deaths due to the fires and 37 injured. At least 54 homes have been destroyed because of blazes.

Toro and the Onemi website point out that there are still nine red alerts and nine yellow alerts in place from the Maule province in central Chile, to Aysen where the San Rafael Laguna National Park is located.

Araucania province has been one of the most affected with 704 hectares damaged.

Responding to the Chilean undersecretary of the interior, Mapuche Werken Marcelo Catrillanca from the Araucania region said that the government "tries by all means to misrepresent the information. We are calm as a Mapuche nation, but we are concerned about collaborating (with the government) for the welfare of our community."

In an interview Catrillanca added: "The most affected (by the fires) are us as a Mapuche nation because people are still killing us and we are still being violated. Therefore, I think there should be an understanding between the government and the Mapuche where we can converse as equals."

On Sunday, ​​​​​​Chilean Undersecretary of the Interior Rodrigo Ubilla accused the Mapuche community of setting at least some of the fires and trying to hinder firefighters from putting them out.

Ubilla claimed during an interview, "there are groups that are using firearms to lower, for example, an airplane that is putting out a fire" in Tirua located outside of Arauncia.

Marcelo Catrillanca is father to Camilo, a 24-year Mapuche who was gunned down by Carabineros (national police force) in his home town of Ercilla while he was unarmed and driving a tractor on Nov. 14. The Mapuche community, opposition legislators, and social movements in the capital of Santiago have been calling for months for the resignation of the Minister of Interior Andres Chadwick for his complicity in the murder and his gross mishandling of its investigation.  

Chile Lawmakers Demand President Remove Interior Minister Chadwick Over Mapuche Killing

Araucania region Senator Jaime Quintana from the Democratic Party said in a statement released Monday that Ubilla made "an unnecessary injury to the Mapuche people. This also means a regression in relations, in the confidence of the Mapuche people, of the communities with the Chilean people because there is no evidence that can support the accusations made by Ubilla. The government here should have asked the experts," Quintana stated.

Mapuches in southern Chile have been demanding the return of their native lands for decades, overtaken by loggers and the government administrations during the turn of the 20th century. The right-wing Sebastian Piñera administration has increased Carabinero presence and repression against the Mapuche in Aurancia since he took office in March 2018.

Around 150 firefighters stationed in Arauncia announced Monday morning they were going on strike for poor working conditions while fighting the flames. 

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