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News > Latin America

'Terrorism': How Chile's Mapuche Struggle Has Been Criminalized

  • Mapuche people marching in support of the Machi Celestino Cordova in Santiago, Chile, July 22, 2018.

    Mapuche people marching in support of the Machi Celestino Cordova in Santiago, Chile, July 22, 2018. | Photo: EFE

Published 9 August 2018

The Luchsinger-Mackay and the Iglesia cases have become a landmark of the Mapuche struggle in Chile.

The Luchsinger-Mackay case has allowed the Chilean government to create a narrative of "terrorism" in Mapuche territory, says defense lawyer Sebastian Saavedra, who is appealing several related convictions.


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The attorney is endeavoring to prove the trial was irregular and biased in a bid to overturn the convictions of Jose Tralcal Coche and Luis Tralcal Quidel, convicted of terrorism for the fire that killed the Luchsinger-Mackay couple in their home in 2013.

Both men were sentenced to life imprisonment, which in Chile can mean a 20-year sentence, but Saavedra has issued an appeal of annulment claiming the trial was politically motivated.

On August 7, the Supreme Court accepted the request, and now the parties will have to appear to decide whether the sentence remains valid or the trial is declared null.

"The trial was biased and the investigation had a series of irregularities that should force the court to nullify the trial," said Saavedra, who works for the Center for Investigation and Defense South (Cidsur).

The attorney says the government has created a political narrative in an attempt to start a counter-terrorism campaign in Mapuche territory, as evidenced by the presence of Jorge Luchsinger Mackay, son of the murdered couple, at several recent presidential events.

Saavedras cites the case of Judge Ximena Saldiva, who resigned his position during the trial after claiming the president of the Court of Temuco, German Varas, was pressuring her to rule against the accused Mapuches.

Jose Peralino, another Mapuche convicted in the case, was given five years' probation in exchange for collaborating with authorities, but has since said his confession was obtained under torture and threat of death. His testimony was fundamental in the sentencing of the Tralcals.

Celestino Cordova was also declared guilty and is currently serving an 18-year sentence.


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Both Tralcals were declared innocent in their first trial, but the appeals court of Temuco overturned the verdict and called a fresh trial.

That same appeal court then rejected annulment of the Iglesia case, confirming the 10-year-and-one-day sentence for Pablo and Benito Trangol Galindo.

The brothers were charged with an arson attack on an evangelical temple in the Padre Las Casas commune, in the Araucania region, in June 2016. A third brother, Ariel, was declared innocent of all charges.

The sentence was based solely on the testimonies of anonymous witnesses and no other evidence, which has been strongly criticized by the defending team and human rights organizations.

Amnesty International issued a report listing a series of irregularities that hampered the right of the accused to a fair trial, including using anonymous witnesses; keeping the investigation secret for too long; inappropiate use of pre-trial imprisonment; harassing witnesses and defenders, and using evidence declared illegal.

Charges against 11 of the other Mapuche accused in the Luchsinger-Mackay case were dropped in October 2017 due to lack of evidence and irregularities in the trial, but after Sebastian Piñera was sworn in as Chile's president in January 2018, the case was reopened – with exactly the same evidence.

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