The Mapuche Community chooses the anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to highlight their ongoing plight.
Nearly 3,000 indigenous rights activists and supporters ignited Santiago's main boulevard La Alameda midday Sunday with trancelike drum rhythms, dances, and theatrical performances for the annual October 12 march to protest the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.
The demonstrators denounced the official celebration of this “holiday” and took the opportunity to protest police repression of Chile's largest indigenous group, the Mapuche people, in their ancestral lands in Chile's Araucanía (Region IX).
“We need to remember the invasion of the Americas, which occurred over 500 years ago, and at the same time continue to defend indigenous peoples' rights,” spokesman for the Autonomous Mapuche Council Ricardo Inalef told The Santiago Times. “We have a commitment to our people and especially those that are caught up in constant conflicts with police, those who are being repressed by the Chilean State.”
Though Inalef is based in Santiago, his council represents Mapuche communities in Regions VII, IX, and X. He emphasized that police routinely raid Mapuche homes without proper warrants and often times exhibit harsh aggressions towards Mapuche women, elderly, and children. “They (police) don't differentiate between kids and adults,” Inalaf said. “And this is clear proof that there are parts of Chile where human rights are not being respected.”
On Sunday [12 October 2008], a network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to infant and youth rights in Chile released a statement charging Carabineros (Chile's uniformed police) of physically and psychologically abusing indigenous adolescents.
The text, signed by well-known Chilean NGOs like the Observatorio Ciudadano, cites 18 severe cases of police abuse against Mapuche children, who ranged in age from nine-days-old to 17-years-old. Among the documented cases is Alex Lemun (17), shot by Carabineros in the head and killed, said the text. Other physical abuse cases include children's fingers being shot off and exposure to tear gas during police raids.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child raised the issue in 2007, imploring the government to assure that “indigenous children and youth no longer be victims of police brutality.”
Chilean authorities have still not responded to the U.N. accussation, according to the NGOs.
Mapuche communities say they have experienced discrimination from agricultural workers and from private forestry companies that have invaded the Aruacanía region to feed Chile's booming forestry industry.
Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International-Chile, attest that these large forestry companies exploit natural resources without providing nearby Mapuche communities with jobs.
Many Mapuche leaders and spokespeople who traveled to Santiago for Sunday's march voiced this criticism. Luis Mellaco, a spokesman from the Lleu Lleu community in Region IX, told Radio Cooperativa that since “such a large portion of Mapuche lands are in the hands of forestry companies and the rich, (police) fulfill the role of company guards.”
No police confrontations or violent incidents occurred during Sunday’s [12 October 2008] protest.