SANTIAGO – The Mapuche Indian resistance group Weichan Auka Mapu issued a statement Thursday claiming responsibility for a string of recent arson attacks in southern Chile.
The fires have been set in the regions of Araucania and Bio Bio, which the Mapuches claim as their ancestral territory. Targets have included vehicles, equipment and buildings belonging to forestry and agri-business firms, as well as nearly a dozen Catholic churches and chapels.
Mapuche militants torch vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a struggle to reclaim lands lost during a late-19th-century “pacification” campaign against the indigenous people in Araucania and Bio Bio.
The conflict has claimed the lives of Mapuche activists, police and farmers, while dozens of indigenous people have been sent to prison, mainly for crimes against property.
The machinery and installations destroyed in the latest attacks were used “to plunder and exploit the Wallmapu,” Weichan Auka Mapu said, using the Mapuche name for their ancestral lands.
Regarding the targeting of houses of worship, Weichan said the Catholic Church “supports the repression and the evictions of communities in Mapuche territory.”
The group singled out an individual priest, the Rev. Francisco Stegmeier, who, according to Weichan, was behind the recent evictions of Mapuches from church-controlled land.