(Jan. 23, 2008) Chile’s National Assembly for Human Rights led a protest Tuesday morning outside La Moneda Presidential Palace demanding that
President Michelle Bachelet address the situation of fasting Mapuche
prisoner Patricia Troncoso. The demonstration came on the heels of an
open letter presented to Bachelet on Monday by Amnesty International,
also demanding attention to Troncoso's case.
Prison guards decided Monday to sedate and administer intravenous
feeding to Troncoso without her consent, a move that human rights groups
decried as a violation of her rights. Troncoso has been fasting more
than 100 days to protest a stiff arson conviction she received in 2002
under Pinochet-era terrorism laws. She has repeatedly denied intravenous
feeding and stated that if she must die, she will.
Sergio Laurenti, Amnesty International’s Chile director, told the
Santiago Times that forcible feeding is not a proper response to Troncoso's situation. He maintained that the only acceptable resolution
is for the Chilean government to consider her demands and revise her
Though prison officials claim that it is within their institutional
mission to intervene if a person in their custody is at risk of dying, Laurenti believes that they violated Troncoso's rights and are taking
advantage of her weakened condition. “This is a cruel and potentially
dangerous response because it was not what she wanted,” he said.
Meanwhile, human rights lawyer and leader of Tuesday's protest, Hugo Gutiérrez, told the Santiago Times that force feeding Troncoso is, “a
violent decision on behalf of the State. Patricia Troncoso is carrying
out a personal struggle against State repression of the Mapuche people
and this response is an unfortunate one.”
The Mapuche community is equally upset by what it perceives as
disrespect for Troncoso's demands. Pro-Mapuche news source, Mapu
Express, cites a World Medical Association Declaration which states,
with respect to hunger strikes, “forcible feeding is never ethically
acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats,
coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and
degrading treatment. ”Troncoso, or “la Chepa” as she is known in Mapuche communities, was
sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2002 for torching almost 250 acres of
a pine plantation in Region IX. The land belonged to forestry company
Minico, which is led by the Matte Group, an economically powerful
Chilean conglomerate. The action was just one of many Mapuche-led
efforts to reclaim indigenous land that has been taken over by private
industry – the result of centuries of cultural imperialism.
Troncoso was tried under provisions of the Anti-Terrorist Law created
under the Pinochet dictatorship and later revived by the administration
of former President Ricardo Lagos. Prosecution under this law greatly
increased the length of her jail term.
Troncoso and four other Mapuche prisoners at Temuco's Angol Prison began
a hunger strike in October to draw attention to their sentences, and she
is now the only remaining hunger striker. Troncoso was transferred to
Herminda Martín Hospital in Chillán last week when her medical team
determined she was at “vital risk” due to her rapidly deteriorating
health (ST, Jan. 15).
This is not the first time the Chilean government has ignored requests
made by Troncoso in recent days. When her medical team recommended
moving Troncoso to a Santiago hospital, the government sent her to
Chillán instead, much to the outrage of her family and supporters. When
the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights requested a phone
interview with Troncoso, orders from the government via the Regional
Justice Office prevented her from doing so.
By Alex Cacciari (editorATsantiagotimes.cl)