Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Tuesday announced a state of emergency and deployed troops to two southern regions where clashes have broken out between members of the Mapuche community and security forces.
The Mapuche are demanding the restoration of their ancestral lands and self-determination.
“We have decided to call a state of exception” in four provinces in the southern regions of Biobio and Araucania, and to deploy troops to help control the “serious disturbance of public order” there, Pinera said in a speech.
The billionaire right-wing president addressed the nation on a controversial national holiday that marks the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus.
It is a day in history that is viewed as a disaster by many Aboriginal communities throughout the Americas due to the colonization that followed.
Pinera, 71, said that the four provinces in question have seen “repeated acts of violence linked to drug-trafficking, terrorism and organized crime committed by armed groups,” and that innocent civilians and police officers have been killed in the violence.
The state of exception is initially due to last two weeks in the provinces of Biobio and Arauco in the Biobio region, and in Malleco and Cautin in the Araucania region.
The Mapuche, Chile’s largest Aboriginal community, number 1.7 million members out of the country’s population of 19 million people and live mostly in the south.
Their leaders are demanding that land owned by farms and logging companies be restored to them.
The lack of a solution to Mapuche demands has prompted radical groups to carry out attacks on trucks and private property over the past decade.
One person was killed and 17 injured on Sunday when clashes broke out in Santiago between security forces and protesters marching for Mapuche autonomy.
University of Santiago professor and political analyst Lucia Dammert has criticized Pinera’s decision, saying that the deployment of troops could further intensify the Mapuche conflict.
“The government has been unable to generate an effective and fair policy to solve the problems that exist in Araucania,” Dammert said, adding that sending troops to the region could lead to “an escalation of violence.”
However, Araucania Governor Luciano Rivas backed the troop deployment, saying that there was “a very deep security crisis” in the region.
“Today, we are living in a very complex situation where the police are overwhelmed by groups with heavy-caliber weapons,” Rivas told CNN Chile.
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