The United Nations has sent a fact-finding team to Chile’s restive Araucania region where a jailed Indigenous Mapuche leader has spent more than 100 days on a hunger strike over his detention during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed on Saturday its team had visited the hospital in the regional capital, Temuco, where Celestino Cordova was being treated, according to Reuters news agency. They have also visited prisons where at least 20 other Mapuche people are on hunger strikes.
The Mapuche fiercely resisted the Spanish conquest of Chile and have for decades been fighting for what they say is their ancestral land against landowners and the wood pulp industry.
Cordova was jailed for 18 years in 2014 for his alleged participation in the killing of an elderly landowning couple in an arson attack. He has been on a hunger strike for 104 days after the courts rejected his appeal to be transferred to house arrest because of COVID-19.
His case has recently increased tensions in Chile, which were already high after several months of protests over inequality and deepening economic hardships due to the pandemic.
Protests and arson attacks have occurred in Araucania and elsewhere in the country. On Friday night, in Santiago’s Plaza Italia, police used water cannon to break up a demonstration in support of Cordova and made several arrests.
Indigenous leaders have alleged forced evictions from council property, excessive or unnecessary use of force by the authorities and racial discrimination amid the unrest, Reuters reported citing a communique by OHCHR.
During the mission, the UN team has met with those leaders as well as with police, prosecutors and business representatives, it said.
In July, after Cordova’s health deteriorated, Temuco’s appeals court ordered a hospital to intervene, including providing nutrients against his will.
On Friday, the government told Cordova he could return home to conduct an important Mapuche blessing ceremony of a totem carved into a tree if he ceased his hunger strike.
“Both the government and various national and international organisations have made every effort to bring positions closer,” the justice ministry said in a statement.
In an audio message circulated on social media that was purportedly recorded by Cordova, he said he would start a liquids strike, and accused President Sebastian Pinera of lacking the “wisdom” to resolve the conflict.
“Because he is not up to the task, he will finally kill me,” he allegedly said.