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LATIN AMERICA | 11-11-2022 13:41

Chile President Boric blasts 'terrorist' Mapuche attacks in flashpoint region

Gabriel Boric slams "terrorist" arson attacks as he visited the southern Araucanía region that has been wracked by violence.

Chile President Gabriel Boric on Thursday blasted "terrorist" arson attacks as he visited the southern Araucanía region that has been wracked by violence linked to radical indigenous groups.

Leftist Boric deployed soldiers to the region and reimposed emergency measures earlier this year following a previous spate of arson attacks.

In the latest violence, a school and a church were torched while several roadblocks were set up.

"They are cowards. We will persecute them with the full force of the law," said Boric, who compared the attacks to the Nazis burning synagogues in the 1930s. 

"The school reminds me of when, in September 1973, the military dictatorship burnt books," he added.

The president had previously come under fire from victims' families and opposition politicians for describing arson attacks as delinquency and vandalism.

He described an earlier arson attack on a family house and mill in a region with a large number of farmers of German descent, as a "terrorist" act.

His visit to the region, in central Chile several hundred miles south of Santiago, was only confirmed late on Wednesday for security reasons.

On Twitter, the president had said his visit was to "strengthen the interministerial work based on our government's priorities in the region, with the focus on people and security."

The densely forested region is the site of territorial claims by the Mapuche, Chile's largest Indigenous group.

The Arauco Malleco Coordination (CAM), one of the main Mapuche groups in the region, released a statement on Wednesday opposing Boric's visit.

It said his trip "obeys the interests of the oligarchy, the power of economic groups that directly oppose the Mapuche cause."

Boric plans to meet with local leaders and victims of the conflict.

In the 16th century, the Mapuche resisted Spanish expansion in their territories but they were finally subdued in 1870 by the Chilean Army, which subsequently began installing settlements in the region.

The restitution of these ancestral lands is at the heart of the Mapuche struggle.

Radical groups carry out regular arson attacks on logging companies in the region, and also prevent outsiders from entering the area without prior authorisation.

Two days after Boric assumed office in March, former interior minister Izkia Siches was forced to turn back from a proposed visit to the region after shots were fired in the air to intimidate her party.

Boric's predecessor, Sebastián Piñera, first deployed the military to Araucanía in October 2021 and although the new president ended that move, he was then forced to backtrack in May.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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