Truck drivers temporarily blocked highways in Chile after a long-running conflict with indigenous groups in the south of the country led to a spike in arson attacks on their vehicles.
Eighty-five trucks have been burnt in 2020, according to data from one of the trucker associations that called for the strike. In the last few weeks, the attacks have become a near daily occurrence.
“Before we counted five attacks per year, but this year we’re headed to 100,” said trucker association leader Jose Villagran. “This is a desperate situation.”
Truckers had given the government until last night to get congressional approval for 13 bills that would improve security and increase penalties. The attacks have increased recently as indigenous Mapuche groups demand the temporary release of an activist who was on hunger strike. He has since agreed to talk to the government.
The truckers have warned that they will block all transit after 12pm if their demands haven’t been met.
“We have to protect public order and if any roads are blocked, we can’t accept that,” government spokesperson Jaime Bellolio told radio ADN today.
Chile’s southern Araucania region is one of the poorest in the country after decades of conflict with the Mapuche, who accuse the Chilean state of violently occupying their land in the 19th century and confining them in reservations. They are demanding the restitution of their ancestral lands, while some extreme groups have resorted to attacking forestry companies’ machinery and harassing farmers.
The government of President Sebastian Pinera has described the attacks as terrorism. “Those that commit acts of violence say that they represent the Mapuche people, but they are wrong,” Bellolio told ADN. “They simply are looking after their own goals such as cargo theft, drug trafficking and arms trafficking. They don’t represent any Mapuche demands.”