Chilean President Agrees to Talks with Mapuche

Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, announced during the country's bicentenary celebration that he would spend $4 billion for development in southern Araucania, which is where most Mapuche live, and that he would open talks with Mapuche leaders on land rights issues and other concerns. The announcement comes as 34 Mapuche activists are conducting a hunger strike in prison to protest their being jailed on charges of terrorism. Like many countries, Chile has used its antiterrorism laws—passed during the brutal reign of Augusto Pinochet—to arrest Indigenous people who take action to recover their lands or defend their rights, even when the actions of the people are relatively minor and clearly not terrorism related. In this case, the Mapuche who have been conducting their hunger strike for two months, insist that they are political prisoners. The talks announced by Pinera, which will include government officials, Mapuche representatives, and church leaders, are scheduled to begin next week. Pinera did not indicate whether Mapuche leaders would be involved in determining the development plans the president announced.