On Friday morning, the long-standing confrontation concerning ancestral lands between some Rapa Nui clans and the Chilean government turned violent. Early in the morning on December 3rd, approximately 45 special forces officers entered property occupied by the Tuko Tuki Clan and began shooting their weapons into the air. Police forces allegedly used extreme violence against men and women, some of whom were still sleeping. For their part, the special forces officers claim that during the operation, they were attacked with Molotov cocktails, machetes, sticks, and other available tools. The property in question is in the heart of Hanga Roa, the location of several government buildings.
Initially, three members of the Tuko Tuki clan were detained, all of whom have judicial proceedings against them. A fourth member of the clan was also initially detained, and by the end of the operation, it was reported that seven individuals in total were detained. Following the operation, police officers lowered the Rapa Nui flags that were flying on the premises and burned them.
Later in the morning, around 25 Rapa Nui individuals returned to the site and were met with shots from the police forces. One individual received multiple shots to the face — including the eye — and lost consciousness. Leviante Araki, the president of the Rapa Nui Parliament and an outspoken leader throughout this ordeal, was also injured, allegedly strangled and beat on the ground by four police officers. Initially, clan members identified a total of ten Rapa Nui individuals as having been injured during the confrontation, some of them in grave condition. Later in the day, the list of injured contained 19 names, with another nine unnamed individuals who had been hospitalized.
In the media, there are conflicting counts of those injured. While clan members identified ten injured Rapa Nui individuals, La Tercera reported only eight injured, while stating that 17 police officers received injuries, a fact rejected by clan spokespeople. According to that same report, three Rapa Nui individuals and one police officer were flown to Santiago for treatment. El Mercurio Online reported that around 20 individuals were injured.
In addition to the allegations of unnecessary force, there is an alleged lack of legal authorization for police officers to have carried out the evacuation in the first place. The only relevant legal order is one that established cautionary measures which was issued by the court handling the criminal claims against three of those detained. That order, however, addressed only victim protection issues similar to a restraining order and did not include any authorization for forcing the clan to vacate the premises in question. Local prosecutors are considering the various legal actions that might be taken against both civilians and police officers involved in the confrontation. Family members of these local prosecutors have been transferred to the mainland out of concerns about their safety.
Immediately following the violent confrontation, the Interamerican Commision on Human Rights requested that the Chilean state provide information concerning the police operative within four days. This request is similar to one the Commission made on November 3rd concerning prior violent acts. To date, there is no response from the Government. The Commission is also seeking information on the Working Groups formed in October, which were formed in an attempt to resolve the issues on the Island. During the violent confrontation on Friday, clan members claim to have approached the special forces officers with information related to claims before the International Commission, but to no avail.
Following the incident, the Regional Intendant, Raúl Celis, indicated that the forced removal of protestors would continue. Rodrigo Hinzpeter, the Minister of the Interior, also announced that 36 additional members of the special forces, along with 2 officials, would be sent to the Island in order to double the size of the contingency. Those forces arrived early Saturday morning alongside Raúl Celis, who planned to meet with authorities on the Island to assess the situation.
On Sunday, a second operation took place to remove Rapa Nui clans from property currently used by the Rotary Club and Entel. According to a spokesperson from the Policía de Investigación, this operation was based on a judicial order to vacate the lands. In contrast to Friday’s operation, this second action apparently did not result in any injuries and no one was detained. Celis highlighted the need to establish normalcy on the Island, given the impact on the tourism industry, which is the Island’s main economic activity.