On March 19, government officials in Chile's southcentral Bio Bio province asked an Appeals Court to apply the Anti-terrorist Law to any Mapuches who attack Endesa Chile, a subsidiary of Endesa Espana, the company building a controversial dam on the Bio Bio river.
Since the decision to build the dam (Central Hidroelectrica Ralco), which the government says is needed to satisfy growing energy demands, confrontations between the indigenous communities and the carabineros (militarized police) in the Bio Bio and Araucania regions of Chile have left a trail of dead, wounded, and detained and have brought international attention to the plight of the Mapuche people. About 1.5 million Mapuches live in Chile.
The Mapuche's struggle to defend their lands and their way of life is now focused on the dam, being constructed on the Bio Bio River, 600 km south of Santiago. The 570-megawatt dam, scheduled to begin operating in December 2003, mostly affects the Pehuenche, the most militant of the Mapuche people.
On March 19, Region VIII (Bio Bio) Gov. Esteban Krause asked the Concepcion Appeals Court to use the 1984 Anti-terrorist Law to investigate and punish those responsible for attacks on Endesa property.
The law, enacted during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), provides for stiff penalties and allows authorities to detain suspects without charges for long periods. It also protects the identity of people who provide information about crimes and calls for special judges to investigate the alleged terrorist activities.
Critics of the law say it is undemocratic and was used as a means of repression during the 17-year dictatorship. Krause replied that, if the law is on the books, the government should use it when necessary. "The government should make use of all norms that will help maintain public order in the upper Bio Bio," he said.
When informed of the legal action, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said, "It's one thing to apply the law, but it's another to say there is terrorism in the region. There is a big distance between the two."
Government General Secretary Heraldo Munoz said President Lagos did not want to apply the Anti-Terrorism Law. He said Lagos prefers to confront the issue by "fighting poverty, combating discrimination, supporting the cultural identity of indigenous peoples, and investing in education."
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