On Thursday, June 7th, another police raid erupted into violence at the Mapuche community Wente Winkul Mapu in the sector Chequenco Alto of the comuna of Ercilla. According to the Chilean government, the police (carabineros) were ordered to arrest a Mapuche individual named Erik Montoya who is accused of attempting to kill a police officer and a farmer in an incident in October of 2011. There are conflicting reports on how the events unfolded, but it is clear that seven Mapuche individuals sustained injuries — including two juveniles — and three police officers were also hurt in the encounter. Two Mapuche individuals were also arrested during the raid.
As is often the case with conflicts in the region of Ercilla, there are conflicting stories about what happened. According to the Chilean police forces, violence broke out when they tried to carry out an arrest warrant and members of the community began resisting. According to the account three officers were injured after being attacked by sticks and axes. At least one officer received a serious concussionfrom strikes to the head that ultimately broke his helmet. Police do admit that they used rubber bullets and “chemical deterrents” to subdue those whom the they saw as a risk.
On the other hand, according to the spokesperson for the community, Daniel Melinao, the police raids began sometime after 6 a.m. when the police began entering homes violently where there were women, children and elderly community members. Melinao also indicated that although the police violently entered homes, they never indicated that they had a warrant to do so. At least seven Mapuche individuals were injured, including two children — ages 12 and 15 — as well as a 78-year-old man.
Of those injured, at least three of the Mapuche were shot at with pellets and had serious injuries. The head of the Health Service said that the three individuals came in with “rubber bullets lodged in different parts of your body.” Specifically, two of the individuals had rubber bullets lodged in their neck and would have to undergo surgery, but all were expected to make full recoveries. Images were released by some of the people who were injured — including one Mapuche man who clearly has six wounds on his back from rubber bullets. In addition to the injuries, two individuals were arrested.
There was a wide range of reactions to the incident. First, it was reported that additional minor clashes between the police forces and upset community members broke out at the health facilities, although no further injuries were indicated. Additionally, during the evening after the attack three trucks were reportedly destroyed when Molotov cocktails were hurled by individuals shouting statements against the morning raids. Four individuals were allegedly involved in what the police are calling an arson attack. No arrests have been made with respect to the incident.
On Friday, June 8th, Meliano (the community’s spokesperson) came to Santiago and delivered letters denouncing the violence to the Minister of the Interior and to the Supreme Court. Meliano also indicated that the community leaders would decide how to proceed, but that seeking the help of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the two individuals arrested was likely to occur. There were also marches of support for the community held throughout the country on Friday.
In response to the letters from the Mapuche community, a spokesperson for the Chilean government, Andrés Chadwick, responded quickly and made it clear that the executive branch of the government was not responsible for the raids. According to Chadwick, “It is a judicial action of the Attorney General’s Office that did not involve the Government [meaning President Piñera's administration], but was the fulfillment of orders given by the Attorney General [to make an arrest].” He did add, however, that the Government is always reassessing how situations are handled throughout the country no matter what they may be.
Georgy Schubert Studer, who is effectively the head of the Public Defenders in Chile, stated that he was concerned about the evidence he had reviewed from the raid. Specifically, he said that the force used was “disproportionate in that it affected not only the defendant [whom police officers had a warrant for] but also innocent members of the community, including children and elderly people who were seriously injured.” Schubert also indicated that, from his perspective, basic rights were violated during the raid, and called on the Attorney General to take steps to safeguard the rights of all citizens.
Finally, multiple Chilean politicians have also spoken out about the incident already, including Deputies Enrique Accorsi (PDP), Fuad Chahin (DC), and Mario Venegas (DC). Deputy Accorsi said that “We reject the violence once again used against the Mapuche communities, especially the indiscriminate use of rubber bullets at close range.” Deputy Chahin, added that “Cases of violence continue to increase in the Araucanía Region” and called for a complete investigation into the raid and the methods used in trying to effect arrests.
The police raid and ensuing police violence are the latest in a long string of incidents that have occurred in Ercilla over the past few years. Click here for IndigenousNews.org’s ongoing coverage of the events.