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News > Latin America

Chile's Presidential Candidates Debate Mapuche Hunger Strike

  • The eight presidential candidate faced each other for the first televised debate on Friday

    The eight presidential candidate faced each other for the first televised debate on Friday | Photo: EFE

Published 29 September 2017

Chile's largest native ethnic group continues to struggle with the government as it tries to regain land lost in the 19th century.

Chile's eight presidential candidates have discussed the hunger strike of four Mapuche activists in the first televised debate ahead of the elections on Nov. 19.

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The Mapuche community members have been on a hunger strike for more than 115 days to protest their detention which they argue is arbitrary.

Former President Sebastian Piñera, from the conservative party Chile Vamos, used the controversy to call for the release of military officers responsible for crimes against humanity, when they have a terminal disease.

“Yes, I am a partisan of the idea that whoever with a terminal condition, at the doorstep of death, often with no awareness of the reasons they are in prison — and I mean military officers or not — over humanitarian grounds, I believe that their sentence should be converted into house arrest, so they can die with dignity, with their beloved ones.”

He also denied that his participation in the military dictatorship could represent “a sin,” adding that what would be “morally reprehensible” would be “having power and yet not being able to avoid human rights violations.”

As for accusations of irregular funding of his 2009 presidential campaign by the company SQM, he said that the payments had “nothing to do with the campaign.”

Leader Hospitalized After 115 Days on Hunger Strike

Beatriz Sanchez, candidate for the center-left coalition Broad Front, said that the hunger strike was “very concerning for humanitarian reasons,” adding that it was her duty to point out in a public debate that “a fellow citizen can die after a hunger strike demanding a fair trial.”

She also criticized the Antiterrorist Bill, which has been used against Mapuche activists in order to criminalize their struggle for the right to land: “I will not apply this Antiterrorist Bill … when I will take office,” she promised.

The day before, the Interior Ministry announced in a communique that it will drop the charges of “terrorism” against the activists, as a gesture meant to convince them to stop the hunger strike.

The decision came after a Mapuche leader, Chief Alfredo Tralcal, was taken to a hospital after signs of internal bleeding.

Alejandro Navarro, representing the province of BioBio in Chile's Senate, and running the elections for the leftist PAIS party founded last year, made his position about the strikers of Temuco prison very clear: “Today, there are Mapuche political prisoners in Chile.”

He recalled that the prosecutors have still not found any evidence against them after one year and four months of investigation. He criticized independent candidate Jose Antonio Kast for calling the activists “terrorists” while they have not been formally accused of any charge yet: “This is discrimination, this is racism,” he added.

Tralcal and his three brothers, Benito, Ariel and Pablo, are accused of leading an arson attack and burning an evangelical church in 2016 in the town of Padre de Las Casas. They claim they are innocent.

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