Mapuche leader found dead in southern Chile

SANTIAGO – The Prosecutor’s Office of the southern Chilean region of La Araucanía is investigating the death of the lonko (chief) of a Mapuche community, whose body was found on a rural road in the area late on Monday.

Juan de Dios Mendoza Lebu, the deceased, was the highest authority of the Raquem Pillá community, in the municipality of Ercilla, about 570 kilometers from Santiago, and his body had injuries attributable to third parties, according to the prosecutor in charge of the case, Nelson Moreno.

Authorities will investigate whether the crime against Juan de Dios Mendoza is related to the complaint made by Mapuche communities about acts of repression by police in the Araucanía region.

Juan de Dios Mendoza Lebu, Lonco was the uncle of Jaime Mendoza Collio, who was assassinated by Carabineros 2009.

The acting prosecutor has ordered the Investigative Police (PDI) to carry out the pertinent inquiries. Staff of the Legal Medical Service arrived at the place to remove the body, and will determine by means of an autopsy the cause of death.

Local news sites are reporting that the body showed marks of violence, but no independent source has confirmed if there’s any connection between the death and the activities of the police.

During the afternoon of Monday there were several clashes in the area between Mapuches and Carabineros personnel, during the eviction of seven agricultural properties that had been occupied as part of the protests for the murder of a young Mapuche man, Camilo Catrillanca, at the hands of Carabineros (Chilean police force) in November last year.

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Mapuche leaders claim their territories were seized by large landowners, loggers and the municipality, and have demanded of the authorities to recover their ancestral lands and probe the Catrillanca’s death.

The indigenous communities have denounced the Carabineros actions for evicting the Huiñako Millao territory on Monday afternoon. The use of live fire has not been verified. The Mapuche media organization Radio Kurruf reported at least five injured by pellets and several arrested. They had reported the arrival of 20 vehicles transporting carabineros and a helicopter flying over the Coñomil Epuleo community.

On the other hand, some members of Chilean society describe the Mapuches’ actions as “terrorism” and applaud the security forces’ reaction to protests by members of indigenous communities.

Last month, the Chilean government had announced that the Carabineros would reduce their activity in the region after the violent murder of Catrillanca, who was shot dead in the back of his head while driving a tractor.

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The Mapuche have long accused the state and private companies of taking their ancestral lands for forestry and other industries, draining its natural resources and using indiscriminate violence against them.

On the other hand, according to the country’s interior minister, the region of Araucanía has seen 920 arson attacks, 924 armed confrontations and 509 attacks on police since 2013.