SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A string of arson attacks in a remote southern region of Chile where Mapuche Indian farmers are pitted against landowners and the forest industry has led to calls for the government to declare a state of emergency in the area.
In the latest attack, an elderly couple was burned alive in the remote southern region of Araucania on Friday while trying to defend their home. Their family's vast landholdings had long been targeted by Mapuche Indians who claim ancestral rights over the land.
President Sebastian Pinera flew to the scene shortly after the attack, doubled the number of police agents in the region to 400 and announced tough new security measures. They include the application of Chile's tough anti-terror law, which dates back to the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship and allows for suspects to be held in isolation without charge, and for the use of secret witnesses and telephone taps that have been discredited by Chile's courts in previous cases of Mapuche violence.
But despite the government's tough stance, police reported six more arson attacks over the weekend, the burning of a lumber truck and an abandoned house by unidentified groups.
"For now, we think the anti-terrorist law is the most efficient," Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said after meeting with Pinera, police chiefs and Cabinet ministers on Sunday.
"What we have here is a terrorist movement that is launching attacks in different places and in precise ways, and that's why we need police action and the collaboration of all citizens," Chadwick said. "We're not ruling out using any other legal tool provided by the constitution," a reference to the state of emergency.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for Friday's deadly attack and some Mapuches called it senseless and abhorrent, local business and land owners say they've had enough. Right-wing politicians are demanding the government take strong action against the perpetrators and act to guarantee safety by declaring the state of emergency.