SANTIAGO — Police shot dead a Mapuche man in Chile’s Araucania province on Friday, stoking tensions with the group and striking a potential blow to attempts to improve relations between the state and the Andean country’s indigenous people.
The shooting, reported by local media to be during a confrontation between police and alleged intruders at a forestry company, is likely to inflame tensions in the region. Indigenous people have claimed for decades that their territory has been illegally requisitioned by agriculture and forestry companies acting with state complicity.
The killing was initially reported to have been of the son of an important local Mapuche leader, Héctor Llaitul, though he later told local media the body had been mistakenly identified.
The local prosecutor’s office said on Twitter that fingerprints were being used to identify the body of the person killed in the police confrontation, adding that Llaitul “did not recognize the body as that of his son, ruling out preliminary versions.”
The Chilean police declined to comment, while the public prosecutor did not respond to a Reuters request for further comment.
Chile’s Human Rights Institute said the shooting would “further exacerbate the complex situation in the region,” calling for a “prompt, deep and transparent investigation.
The incident took place around 5:30 p.m. (2130 GMT) at the Santa Ana-Tres Palos farm in Carahue, 55 km (35 miles) west of the regional capital Temuco, media reports said.
Police said a group of hooded individuals arrived at the farm and fired on an employee, prompting an armed police operation, according to local news station Mega.
In 2018, Camilo Catrillanca, 24, the grandson of a local indigenous leader, was shot in the head during a police operation in a rural community near the town of Ercilla, triggering nationwide protests. Seven police officers were convicted in connection with that shooting.
Last week, 155 Chilean citizens drafting a new constitution for the country elected a Mapuche academic, Elisa Loncon, to lead them, a significant turnaround since indigenous people are not recognized in the constitution adopted during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. (Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Fabian Cambero; Editing by William Mallard, Adam Jourdan and Daniel Wallis)