Lorena Fries, the director of Chile’s official Human Rights Institute, warned Friday against cracking down using the anti-terror law, which allows for holding suspects in isolation without charges, using secret witnesses and other measures that have been discredited by Chile’s courts in previous cases of Mapuche violence. Instead, she said Pinera should reach out to the Indians, and honor their demands for self-governance and the recovery of ancestral land. ‘‘Something has to be done so that everyone puts an end to the violence,’’ she said.
The Mapuches’ demands for land and autonomy date back centuries. They resisted Spanish and Chilean domination for more than 300 years before they were forced south to Araucania in 1881. Many of the 700,000 Mapuches who survive among Chile’s 17 million people still live in Araucania. A small fraction have been rebelling for decades, destroying forestry equipment and torching trees. Governments on the left and right have sent in police while offering programs that fall far short of their demands.
The Luchsinger family also arrived in Araucania in the late 1800s, from Switzerland, and benefited from the government’s colonization policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile’s Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.