Just four days after Gabriel Boric assumed the Chilean Government last Friday, the entourage of the Minister of the Interior and Public Security, Izkia Siches, was attacked this Tuesday morning in La Araucanía, in the south of the country, with shots fired at the air, roadblocks, barricades and messages of intimidation. It was her first visit as her minister to the region affected by the conflict between the Chilean State and the Mapuche people over ancestral lands, which has become more complex with other elements, such as wood trafficking, drug trafficking and other crimes. With at least 1,200 attacks in 2021 and eight homicides this year, the new Administration seeks to solve this crisis of violence without militarization and with dialogue.
The attack was recorded when Siches was trying to enter the Mapuche Temucuicui community, an area of the municipality of Ercilla where not even the police can enter; a kind of state within another state. An attack of this type on a minister is an unprecedented event in democracy —neither in La Araucanía nor anywhere else in the country— and the first crisis in Boric’s leftist government, in one of its central designs in the face of one of the great problems facing Chile: violence in the south. The minister’s entourage, which was not injured, had to back up on a rural dirt road. Some of her collaborators, according to the videos, tried to calm things down by displaying a Mapuche flag, which was unsuccessful. The authority had to take shelter in a nearby Carabineros sub-station.
Hours later, it was Siches herself who commented on what happened in an attack that did not record any injuries. “We have always known that this job was not going to be easy and that it required the best of us. Those who believe that we were going to resolve it from Santiago are mistaken. We had to be here, in the territory, and that is what our president has asked us to do. This area has had deep problems: abandonment. The Government is not going to back down on the plan. We will continue with our entire itinerary in search of dialogue and reunion. What happens is violence, but also a lack of a determined State, that when events like today’s occur, they don’t start in the capital,” said the 36-year-old doctor, who announced that it will not be the last visit of the Government to Araucanía and its surrounding regions and who today met with victims from different sectors, Mapuche and non-Mapuche.
Siches referred to what the government spokeswoman, Camila Vallejo, had announced shortly before. That, despite the seriousness of what happened, La Moneda will insist on not renewing the state of emergency on March 26, when the last extension approved by former President Sebastián Piñera ends. What the Boric Administration is seeking points to a de-escalation of militarization, to encourage dialogue with all groups seeking peace, in a controversial and resisted measure in a region such as La Araucanía where the candidate of the extreme right, José Antonio Kast, by 60% against 39% of Boric. The request to maintain the state of emergency does not come only from the right, but also from the center-left.
The highly popular Minister Siches wanted to enter Temucuicui to hold a meeting with the family of Camilo Catrillanca, a young Mapuche murdered by police forces in November 2018, during a military operation at the beginning of the Government of Sebastián Piñera. This fact early frustrated the plan of the right-wing administration in the area. The father of the young man who died, Marcelo Catrillanca, was leading Minister Siches’ retinue today in his car as he joined the Mapuche community. But it was Catrillanca himself who criticized the deployment of the new Government, when consulted by the journalists who participated with Siches in the visit. “I want to greet the minister, because I think the Government has good intentions and we value that. Whatever happened along the way, we must resolve that within the community, we are going to talk among ourselves. But I can’t say what happened, because I have no idea. What yes, the visit was very improvised. We cannot say that this was done in time, “said the victim’s father, who avoided condemning what happened.
We spoke with Marcelo Catrillanca, father of Camilo, in an important meeting within the day in which we seek to establish a dialogue with victims, territories and authorities. With more conviction than ever we reaffirm our path. Violence will not stop us. pic.twitter.com/xvFZSNCyOV
– Izkia Siches Pastén (@izkia) March 15, 2022
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As soon as the news of the attack was known, an emergency meeting was immediately held at the Palacio de La Moneda between President Boric and his political team, including spokeswoman Camila Vallejo, who ran to the president’s office. From the seat of government, the minister argued that the attacks this Tuesday are taking place precisely with a state of exception —with the Armed Forces deployed in the area—, in reference to the fact that the military presence does not help pacification. She confirmed that the Government is promoting a withdrawal of the Army.
“The path that we have decided to follow to face the critical situation in Wallmapu [territorio mapuche] and especially Araucanía, we knew it was going to be difficult. We know that the path of dialogue will not be without difficulties and that there are probably many who do not want dialogue. Whoever tries to intimidate Minister Izkia Siches is very wrong,” said Vallejo, who insisted that the government will stick to its plan “with perseverance,” because it is convinced that it is the right path to achieve peace in the zone. The same was ratified by another of the central ministers of the Government, Giorgio Jackson, who heads the ministry of the General Secretariat of the Presidency.
Siches entering Temucuicui would have marked a great political triumph, because neither the government authorities nor the police can enter, not even to execute orders from the Justice. In January 2021, for example, a police detective who participated in a raid on the Mapuche community died.
The interior minister’s tour was her first major activity since she took office on Friday. She arrived in Araucanía on Monday night to hold various meetings in the area and, together with other ministers, make decisions for the military de-escalation plan. She arrived accompanied by the Minister of Defense, Maya Fernández; of Public Works, Juan Carlos García; of Social Development, Jeanette Vega; Education, Marco Antonio Ávila; and Health, María Begoña Yarza, who traveled to Araucanía – some 700 kilometers south of Santiago – to work on a new “comprehensive” plan to tackle the conflict.
The meeting between Siches and the Catrillanca family finally took place elsewhere and was reported by the minister herself on social networks: “We spoke with Marcelo Catrillanca, Camilo’s father, in an important meeting within the day in which we seek to establish a dialogue with victims , territories and authorities. With more conviction than ever we reaffirm our path. Violence will not stop us.”
The region’s High Complexity Prosecutor, César Schibar, traveled to Temucuicui to investigate the events. The antecedents indicate that there was premeditation. Near the place of the shots, a canvas addressed to Siches was found, rejecting dialogue: “Izkia Siches, as long as there are Mapuche political prisoners there will be no dialogue. By Kamilo Katrillanca and all those who fell in combat in Wallmapu. We will not accept any bribes from a murderous state. Outside forest latifundia. No more militarization. Mapuche resistance”, says the letter.
The reactions have been transversal. From the Congress in Valparaíso, the deputy for Araucanía, Miguel Mellado, from the opposition party Renovación Nacional, assured: “There were roads cut off and they received her with bullets. The region of La Araucanía must be protected from these terrorists who attack with firearms. These people are dangerous.” And then he made a heartfelt request to the president: “President Boric, do not withdraw the state of emergency from the region. His candor leads him to do something that people believe is in the center of Santiago, but that sector is almost another Chile. They don’t let anyone in that they don’t want. And even less now they let a Minister of State enter.”
After the attack on Siches, a heated debate has opened in Chile about the relevance of removing the military from a red zone of the conflict. And, incidentally, a discussion about the security measures with which the minister traveled to a very dangerous area. The communist deputy Karol Cariola, very close to the Government, assured after the events: “We must not err on the side of confidence, because here there were obviously situations that were not foreseen.” Although the Minister of the Interior herself dismissed the criticism – she said that there was an advance team and denied improvisation – the Carabineros warned her that it was a dangerous area, but Siches asked to go alone with her escort, plainclothes policemen and without armored vehicles.
The Arauco-Malleco Coordinator, a political-military organization that since the end of the 1990s has sought to recover the land through violence, issued a statement after Boric’s election in December in which it rejected the “paternalism” of the left. hippie, progressive and cool”, stating that as a Mapuche people they have their own political-military system since before the formation of the State of Chile.
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