Chilean Government Prepares to Force Feed Prisoners; Takes Steps Towards Mediation

Given the uncertainty of other efforts to end the Mapuche hunger strike, President Piñera has put in place a plan to force feed the Mapuche political prisoners in the event that their health deteriorates to life-threatening levels–even if doing so is against the will of the individual. This plan is increasingly likely to be implemented with each passing day as prisoners being held in Angol have announced that they are no longer drinking liquids, and many of the other political prisoners have been on their hunger strike for more than 60 days.

The government’s policy to force feed the prisoners has been upheld in separate court cases throughout the country, although appeals are still pending. Amnesty International, on the other hand, has indicated that force feeding an individual against their will might amount to torture.

Currently, six of the Mapuche prisoners are in hospitals (one from the prison in Los Rios, three from the Bio-Bio Region, and two from the prison in Angol), while the others remain in prison with their health carefully monitored. According to a visiting physician, Dr. Eduardo Catrileo, the prisoners have entered the third and final stage of starvation where the body begins to break down its own muscles for energy. This stage can produce both mental and physical harm to the individual, including harm that is permanent.

Two Prisoners on Hunger Strike Released on Bail

In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, a court in Temuco ruled this afternoon that two of the prisoners who have been on the hunger strike could be released on bail for an incident that allegedly occurred in July of 2009. The prisoners stated that they would continue their hunger strike even upon being released. Meanwhile, the prosecutor stated that the decision would be appealed.

Mapuche Prisoners and La Moneda Agree on a Mediator

There were some signs of progress in opening up a dialogue between the Mapuche and La Moneda on Tuesday when, Ricardo Ezzati, the Archbishop of Concepción, announced that he has accepted the role of mediator between the Mapuche prisoners and the Chilean government. After making the announcement, he headed to the south of the country where he will start speaking to the Mapuche prisoners and their families in the coming days.

The announcement of Ezzati’s involvement came after he had meetings in the morning at La Moneda with key governmental personnel, and after he had meetings with the families of some of the prisoners on Monday. A spokesperson for the prisoners seemed to indicate that they were anxious to work with Ezzati, but also pointed out that the government never consulted the prisoners or their families about who would be an appropriate mediator for the conflict. The Mapuche prisoners also made it clear that they would not stop their strike until after concrete steps had been taken by the government to address their concerns.

Background

The Mapuche hunger strikers are individuals who have been put in prison under Chile’s Antiterrorism Law. The Law’s application to the Mapuche people has been extremely controversial, and condemned by many international organizations. In order to protest their incarceration and, more importantly, the Law itself, a hunger strike was started 66 days ago. Although largely ignored at first, the past two weeks have seen a lot of discussion and media attention to the Mapuche’s efforts. Now, according to one recent poll, 86% of all Chileans believe that the Mapuche hunger strike reflects poorly on their country, and support for the strikers continues to grow from a wide variety of sources both international and from within Chile.

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