SANTIAGO – A leader of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche people was convicted Thursday in the January 2013 deaths of an elderly couple whose rural home was set on fire.
But the court in the southern city of Temuco rejected a request from the Interior Ministry to classify the arson attack as terrorism.
Celestino Cordova Transito will be sentenced Feb. 28 for the deaths of farmer Werner Luchsinger Lemp, 75, and his wife, Vivian Mackay Gonzalez, 69.
Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence with aggravating circumstances, which translates into a minimum of 40 years behind bars.
Cordova, a Mapuche “machi,” or shaman, was arrested Jan. 4, 2013, hours after the deadly blaze.
He had a bullet wound in his chest when police encountered him near the Luchsinger farm outside Vilcun, a town in the southern region of Araucania.
The court acquitted Cordova on charges he set another home in Vilcun ablaze in December 2012.
The attack that claimed the lives of Luchsinger and Mackay was one of the more dramatic episodes in the “Mapuche conflict,” which has seen indigenous militants in Araucania torch vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a struggle to reclaim lands the Mapuches lost during a 19th century “pacification” campaign.
Those lands are now largely occupied by lumber and agricultural interests.
Authorities beefed up security at the courthouse in Temuco ahead of Thursday’s reading of the verdict, as Mapuche activists turned out in solidarity with Cordova.
Mapuches make up around 650,000 of Chile’s 17 million people and are concentrated in Araucania and greater Santiago.