SANTIAGO – Three trucks and an excavator were set on fire Thursday in the southern Chilean region of Araucania by a group of at least six armed Mapuche Indian militants wearing hoods, police said.
Left behind at the scene was a message demanding the release of a pair of Mapuche brothers who are in custody in connection with the January 2013 arson deaths of an elderly couple.
Celestino Cordova, a “machi,” or shaman, was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison for the deadly blaze, which came against the backdrop of a conflict that has seen 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.
A sibling of Cordova was among 10 other Mapuches arrested Wednesday on suspicion of involvement in the Jan. 4, 2013, fire that resulted in the deaths of Werner Luchsinger Lemp, 75, and his wife, Vivian Mackay Gonzalez, 69.
No one was hurt in Thursday’s attack, police Maj. Carlos Ramirez told Radio Bio Bio, adding that a search for the perpetrators was in progress.
The conflict in Araucania has claimed the lives of Mapuche activists, police and farmers, while dozens of indigenous people have been sent to prison for attacks and setting vehicles ablaze, along with burning agricultural and lumbering machinery, rural properties and forests, among other crimes.
Mapuches make up around 650,000 of Chile’s 17 million people and are concentrated in Araucania and greater Santiago.