SANTIAGO – Workers in the forestry sector blocked several highways Tuesday in three regions of southern Chile that have been the target of arson attacks blamed on Mapuche Indian militants, authorities said.
The burning of trucks, machinery, agricultural and woodland properties has spread to the torching of churches and schools in the Biobio, Araucania and Los Rios regions since the beginning of this year.
The protests against this violence, according to police, extend from around the city of Chillan, at some 410 kilometers (255 miles) from Santiago, to the surroundings of Valdivia, 835 kilometers (519 miles) from the Chilean capital.
Police reports say that dozens of trucks, many of them loaded with the remains of burned machinery and vehicles, have parked at toll booths and other places on the route that connects a number of towns in Arauco province, and at three points on the north-south highway in the Biobio region.
The regional police commander, Gen. Eric Flores, told reporters that before noon the truck drivers had not blocked the highways completely but had left one lane free, which caused traffic jams nonetheless.
A similar demonstration was held in Araucania at Kilometer 658 (Mile 409) on the north-south longitudinal road near Temuco, the regional capital.
“This is a traffic slowdown demonstration that seeks to raise people’s awareness about the problems we’re going through,” Rene Muñoz, manager of the Forestry Contractors Association, said on the Web site SoyTemuco.cl, and asked for drivers’ patience and understanding.
“This is for the good of the country,” he said.
A similar protest was rolled out at Kilometer 758 (Mile 471) of the north-south route in the Los Rios region, where some 60 trucks were stopped along the highway.
The “Mapuche conflict” has seen indigenous militants torch vehicles, highway toll booths, lumber shipments and buildings as part of a struggle to reclaim lands the Mapuches lost during a 19th century “pacification” campaign.
The strife has led to the violent deaths of a number of Mapuche activists, police officers and farmers.
Concentrated in Araucania and greater Santiago, Mapuches make up around 650,000 of Chile’s 17 million people.