Mapuche prisoners in Chile

Hunger strike for protection and rights (Press Release)

Celestino Córdova, a spiritual and political authority (Machi) of the Mapuche, has been on hunger strike in Temuco prison in the south of Chile for more than three months. This is already the fifth hunger strike by the Machi since his arrest in 2013, after he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2014 for the murder of the Luchinger-Mackay couple. International observers, human rights groups, and several Mapuche organizations and communities are still questioning the evidence presented and the legality of the sentence.

"Among other things, the Machi demanded that he himself – and all other political prisoners, Mapuche and non-Mapuche – should be allowed to serve their sentences under house arrest in their homes and communities," stated Yvonne Bangert, expert on indigenous peoples at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "The Covid-19 pandemic is rampant in Chile, and prisoners have a particularly high risk of infection." In addition, Córdova demanded the implementation of international human and indigenous rights such as Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which Chile has also ratified. Articles 7 to 10 of the convention are about the circumstances of imprisonment of indigenous people.

"Currently, the Machi's state of health is extremely critical: he weighs only about 65 kilograms, has severe breathing problems and a heart issue, suffers from nausea, and has pain everywhere," Bangert reported. "Hunger strikes are part of the Mapuche's decades-long protests. Among other things, the wan to return of their territories and are demanding autonomy and self-determination." About ten percent of Chile's population belong to the Mapuche. Especially since the 1990s, their rights have been massively violated by the Chilean state – and their protests are criminalized.

In the second half of May, Chile placed over 13,000 prisoners under house arrest because of the Covid-19 crisis. "Political prisoners, including non-Mapuche, were denied this protective measure.  This clearly shows that the decisions of the Chilean authorities are racist and politically motivated," Bangert criticized. At the same time, applications for ecologically harmful infrastructure projects such as power plants and dams in Mapuche territories doubled between March and May compared to the previous year.

Other prisoners taking part in the hunger strike are: Sergio Levinao Levinao, Víctor Llanquileo Pilquimán, Juan Calbucoy Montanares, Juan Queipul Millanao, Freddy Marileo Marileo, Danilo Nahuelpi Millanao, and Reinaldo Penchulef Sepúlveda (in Angol prison), and Antu Llanca (in Temuco prison).

The STP calls on Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and his government to comply with the legitimate demands of the Mapuche prisoners: "We would like to join the many international voices and – like Martín Almada, winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize – demand the prisoners' lives to be protected," Bangert said.