Friday, January 25, 2008

Hunger Strike Surpasses 100 days for Mapuche Woman Tried Under Chile’s Anti-Terrorism Laws for Setting fire to Matte Group’s Pine Plantation


Supporters Outraged By Government Decision To Force Feed Mapuche Protester Patricia Troncoso

(Jan. 23, 2008) Chile’s National Assembly for Human Rights led a protest Tuesday morning outside La Moneda Presidential Palace demanding that President Michelle Bachelet address the situation of fasting Mapuche prisoner Patricia Troncoso. The demonstration came on the heels of an open letter presented to Bachelet on Monday by Amnesty International, also demanding attention to Troncoso's case.

Prison guards decided Monday to sedate and administer intravenous feeding to Troncoso without her consent, a move that human rights groups decried as a violation of her rights. Troncoso has been fasting more than 100 days to protest a stiff arson conviction she received in 2002 under Pinochet-era terrorism laws. She has repeatedly denied intravenous feeding and stated that if she must die, she will.

Sergio Laurenti, Amnesty International’s Chile director, told the Santiago Times that forcible feeding is not a proper response to Troncoso's situation. He maintained that the only acceptable resolution is for the Chilean government to consider her demands and revise her jail sentence.

Though prison officials claim that it is within their institutional mission to intervene if a person in their custody is at risk of dying, Laurenti believes that they violated Troncoso's rights and are taking advantage of her weakened condition. “This is a cruel and potentially dangerous response because it was not what she wanted,” he said.

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer and leader of Tuesday's protest, Hugo Gutiérrez, told the Santiago Times that force feeding Troncoso is, “a violent decision on behalf of the State. Patricia Troncoso is carrying out a personal struggle against State repression of the Mapuche people and this response is an unfortunate one.

The Mapuche community is equally upset by what it perceives as disrespect for Troncoso's demands. Pro-Mapuche news source, Mapu Express, cites a World Medical Association Declaration which states, with respect to hunger strikes, “forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. ”

Troncoso, or “la Chepa” as she is known in Mapuche communities, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2002 for torching almost 250 acres of a pine plantation in Region IX. The land belonged to forestry company Minico, which is led by the Matte Group, an economically powerful Chilean conglomerate. The action was just one of many Mapuche-led efforts to reclaim indigenous land that has been taken over by private industry – the result of centuries of cultural imperialism.
Troncoso was tried under provisions of the Anti-Terrorist Law created under the Pinochet dictatorship and later revived by the administration of former President Ricardo Lagos. Prosecution under this law greatly increased the length of her jail term.

Troncoso and four other Mapuche prisoners at Temuco's Angol Prison began a hunger strike in October to draw attention to their sentences, and she is now the only remaining hunger striker. Troncoso was transferred to Herminda Martín Hospital in Chillán last week when her medical team determined she was at “vital risk” due to her rapidly deteriorating health (ST, Jan. 15).

This is not the first time the Chilean government has ignored requests made by Troncoso in recent days. When her medical team recommended moving Troncoso to a Santiago hospital, the government sent her to Chillán instead, much to the outrage of her family and supporters. When the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights requested a phone interview with Troncoso, orders from the government via the Regional Justice Office prevented her from doing so.

Here is the full article.