Three judges in a Temuco court on Thursday found Arauco-Malleco
Association (CAM) Mapuche director Hector llaitul innocent of arson,
illegal arms possession and receiving stolen goods.
In the eight-day trial local prosecutors tried to show that Llaitul and
fellow Mapuche Roberto Painemil Parra were part of a group of sixto
eight arsonists who set fire to forest machinery in "Las Praderas," a
countryside area in the Region IX town of Chol Chol, on Dec. 25, 2006.
Painemil was found guilty of possessing illegal weapons, but all other
charges were dropped. The court will announce the official rulings this
After a year and four months in prison, Llaitul was set free at noon on
Thursday and left the court in silence. "I’m happy to get my freedom
back, but I should be careful with the statements I make," Llaitul said,
claiming he needed to keep a low profile after the ruling. "They
persecute me for what I say, not for what I do. It’s an ideological
Llaitul's defense lawyer Pablo Ortega said testimony presented by
prosecutors contradicted the conclusions of several experts and did not
give consistent, convincing evidence that could place Llaitul at the
scene of the arson. For example, the farm caretaker, whose name was not
published, was found lost among the trees some 300 meters away from the
fires and could not testify about who the vandals were.
Llaitul insisted that he was elsewhere that night, at a family friend's
house with his two oldest children.
Prosecutor Vania Arancibia said the evidence against Llaitul was
insufficient to prove "beyond all reasonable doubt" that he was guilty,
but said the prosecution team might appeal Thursday's decision.
"The public ministry did its job. It investigated and prosecuted because
it believed the accused participated in the crime ," she said. "Nonetheless, we weren’t expecting the [Thursday's] result. We are going
to wait for the official sentencing to analyze the situation and see if
there is sufficient evidence to appeal the case."
Roberto Painemil admitted that he was present at the fire when police
officials revealed photographs from the Chol Chol site. Painemil had
previously made an out-of-court statement that Llaitul was one of the
incendiaries that set fire to the machinery. However, when he stood
trial last week, Painemil claimed civilians had wrongfully arrested him
and police tortured him until he would incriminate Llaitul. Painemil
denied in court that Llaitul was present at the Chol Chol fires.
Former judge Juan Guzman worked on Llaitul's defense team and called the
court results a "triumph" for the Mapuches, an indigenous people who are
not recognized as a separate people in Chile’s constitution. Chile's
Mapuche tribes have a history of legal battles on charges of burning
farmland and houses on property they claim is rightfully theirs.
"It’s a triumph of justice for the original towns that had been so
abused," Guzman said. This year, Guzman and a group of professionals
will launch a foundation to provide free legal defense for minority and
discriminated groups, including the Mapuches.
CAM spokesman Oscar Ancatripai expects the now-free co-founding leader
will soon rejoin the ranks of the Mapuche rights organization.
SOURCE: CHILEAN NEWS SOURCES