Chilean Mapuche leader ends hunger strike

Partial victory for Machi Celestino Córdova Tránsito (Press Release)

On August 18, the Machi Celestino Córdova Tránsito, important spiritual leader of the Mapuche in Chile, ended his hunger strike after 107 days. Some of his fellow prisoners are planning to do the same. After discussions with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the National Institute of Human Rights, the Colegio Medico, and observers of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), the Machi negotiated an agreement that was signed by the Secretary of Justice of Valenzuela.

According to the agreement, Celestino will remain in the Intercultural Hospital Nueva Imperial until his complete physical and spiritual recovery. There, he will be treated with conventional medicine and traditional Mapuche healing methods. Afterwards, if he so wishes, Celestino will be transferred to a work and education center, which he will be allowed to leave for a maximum of 30 hours to visit his REWE, his spiritual ceremonial place. This had been one of his most important demands.

"We are very relieved about this outcome. Following several racist attacks on members of the Mapuche and the death of two Mapuche women, the hunger strike had become a highly sensitive issue," stated Yvonne Bangert, expert on indigenous peoples at the Society for Threatened Peoples. "The agreement can be seen as a partial victory, as it strengthens the position of detained members of the Mapuche with regard to cultural, spiritual, health-related, educational, and work-related issues." However, the issue has not yet been settled. Another group of Mapuche detainees in Angol prison is continuing their hunger strike to press for negotiations.

The other Mapuche will not be punished for the hunger strike. In addition, it will become easier for them to visit a work and education center. Further, there are plans to continue the intercultural dialogue in the penal system to bring about new prison regulations concerning the reintroduction of work and education, healthcare, and spiritual help. The agreement is supposed to be finalized in the course of 2020 and must take into account the consultation process under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization ILO. The Machi announced that he will go on hunger strike again should the deadline expire. In one of the statements, he asked for continued support for the other hunger strikers, even if he stopped his strike.

The provisional agreement aims to end the fifth hunger strike of the Machi (which he had temporarily led as a "dry" hunger strike) since his arrest in 2013. Recently, his health situation had become very serious. An independent medical delegation from the Chilean Colegio Médico de Chile had visited him on August 10. According to their report, his condition was critical and his death was imminent – and he had already asked his spokeswoman to pass on his words of farewell.