Chile’s jailed Mapuche activists resume hunger strike

SANTIAGO – A group of jailed Mapuche activists have resumed their hunger strike after being held without trial for almost 18 months as the Chilean government has “failed to fulfill its promise to free them”.

Ariel, Benito, Pablo and Alfredo Trangol stand accused of leading an arson attack and burning an evangelical church in June 2016, charges they have consistently denied.

The alleged attack took place in the town of Padre de Las Casas, in the province of La Araucania. Alfredo is the only one of the four who is not resuming the protest.

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Robinson Trangol, the group’s spokesman, said that despite the lack of evidence against the activists, the government has so far refused to release the men from prison in the town of Temuco a month after agreeing to drop all charges of terrorism.

“They haven’t even been judged and (the government) did not even consider an alternative measure for imprisonment,” he said, describing the government’s inaction as “abusive” because of their deteriorating health following their first hunger strike.

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The four activists are being held under an anti-terrorism bill passed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The bill established harsher penalties than under previous administrations and has been applied to the Mapuches in their ongoing struggle to recover their ancestral lands.

Benito, Pablo and Alfredo ended their initial hunger strike on September 31 after Interior Minister Mario Fernandez vowed the government would not use the anti-terrorism bill against the activists amid growing concerns for their health. Despite his promise, the terrorism charges still stand.

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Preparations for the trial, originally planned for October 30, have been postponed to November 13. The Public Ministry in La Araucania blamed the delay on the activists’ defense team, which it claimed had filed new requests.

The country’s largest native ethnic group continues to fight the government in order to regain land lost during Chile’s 19th Century expansion south, into Mapuche-held territory.