Chilean police have arrested 16 people who were demonstrating in solidarity with four Indigenous Mapuche villagers who have been on a hunger strike for more than 90 days.
"We called for this mobilization to receive the support of the people from the different communities that were present today," Cristian Trancal, one of the hunger strikers, told local media outlet 24 Horas.
Trancal was one of the organizers of the mobilization in central Temuco, about 372 miles south of Santiago. His father also participated.
Benito Trangol, Ariel Trangol, Pablo Trangol and Alfredo Tralcal, the four Mapuche hunger strikers, are being investigated in a case involving an attack on an evangelical church in the Padre de las Casas municipality in June 2016. They are currently in police custody.
In response to this, they initiated a hunger strike, alleging their innocence.
"People from different territories came here today to try to raise awareness of this issue, and also for the government to listen to the demands of the brothers," Tralcal said.
Despite decades of resistance aimed at recovering their ancestral lands, the Mapuche are still struggling to have their rights recognized by the government of Chile.
Several Mapuche activists have been killed in the country during clashes with military police while many remain in prison, charged with offenses brought under a controversial anti-terrorism bill.
The legislation is a remnant of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. It has been used for many years against the Mapuche people, receiving condemnation from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2014 and the United Nations in 2013, which labeled it “discriminatory.”
It allows Chilean authorities to arrest suspects without bail before trial, to condemn them based on anonymous testimonies and to give them higher penalties for crimes.
Mapuche people occupy only five percent of their ancestral lands, located in La Araucania, representing a total of 600,000 hectares and only a sixth of the lands owned by private forestry firms.
There are around 700,000 Mapuche people in Chile out of a total of 16 million citizens. Poverty among the Mapuche on average is double that of the rest of the population.