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Mapuche Hunger Strike Reaches Crisis Point: Political Prisoners Fight for Madre Tierra

The renewed hunger strike of fifteen political prisoners of the Mapuche resistance movement in Chile has reached a highly critical stage. The prisoners are members of the Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), a movement that is involved in direct action to recover ancestral lands in order to protect Madre Tierra from spoliation by logging companies and big business latifundios.

The weichafe ecowarriors also identify by their Spanish acronym PPM (Presos Políticos Mapuche). They have been in a protracted struggle for political autonomy and protection of their wallmapu homeland from destructive commercial exploitation. But the Chilean state, under the supposedly leftist government of Gabriel Boric, insists on criminalizing the CAM and stigmatizing any action for national liberation as terrorist.1

Four weichafe commenced a hunger strike on November 13, 2023, and have since been joined by two other groups of PPM. Their two central demands are:

  1. The annulment of the political and unjust convictions without evidence against CAM political prisoners and the right of due process. Their conviction of at least fifteen years imprisonment was not based on evidence but on racist profiling.
  2. Better conditions of detention, respecting their collective rights as Indigenous people, including the implementation of communal modules in prisons. The Chilean state should respect ILO Convention 169 regarding the cultural relevance of the deprivation of liberty of Indigenous peoples.

Doctors advise that once a hunger striker goes beyond sixty days without food, their internal organs begin to collapse and they are in imminent danger of dying.  As at time of writing, January 29, 2024, the first group of strikers are seventy-nine days into their protest.

The families of the political prisoners, especially women, have led the resistance outside the prisons, called for demonstrations and a week of protest.  They write:

“We confidently await the ruling on the appeal for annulment on February 9 this year and we will be attentive to the political and racist maneuvers of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the government of Gabriel Boric.”

International Solidarity Is Urgent

The weichafe are one the foremost contingents of the invisible daily resistance of Indigenous peoples to capitalist extractivism.  Their lives are on the line to resist criminalization and make visible the Mapuche nation’s struggle.  Please support them by writing urgently, calling on the government to respect the prisoners’ rights as Mapuche people, to:

Jaime Gajardo, Subsecretario de Justicia.
E-mail: jaime.gajardo@minjusticia.cl
Mobile number: +569 4275 9326


October 4, 2023: Los Ángeles court, Bio-bío penitentiary. The trial of Ernesto Llaitul, Esteban Henríquez, Nicolas V. Alcaman, and Ricardo D. Reinao begins in a hybrid format. Many family members and observers cannot enter.

October 16, 2023: Pretrial hearing for Bastian Llaitul, José Lienqueo, Axel Campos, Oscar Cañupan, and Roberto Garling.

November 3, 2023: The five-week trial at the Los Ángeles court ends. There is no jury. The three judges find Ernesto Llaitul, Esteban Henríquez, Nicolas V. Alcaman, and Ricardo D. Reinao guilty.

November 13, 2023: These four PPM commence hunger strike in Bio-bío penitentiary.

November 16, 2023: The Los Ángeles court passes sentences of fifteen years at least.

December 11, 2023: Six PPM held at Bio-bío join the hunger strike: Hector Llaitul, Pelentaro Llaitul, José Lienqueo, Axel Campos, Oscar Cañupan, and Roberto Garling. Graffiti, murals, and civil resistance roadblocks appear across wallmapu.

December 13, 2023: Five more prisoners held separately in Temuco prison join the strike: Bastian Llaitul, Axel Campos, Roberto Garling, José Lienqueo, Oscar Cañupan. They further demand forest companies and military out of wallmapu, and an end to state persecution of the Mapuche resistance to land grabbing.

The court in Lautaro hears a motion to improve conditions of four PPM in pretrial detention: Pelentaro Llaitul, Luis Menares, J.C. Mardones, and Jorge Caniupil. The court refuses to lift the punitive measures.

December 19, 2023: The forestry company Minimco attempts entry into the Santa Ana farm in Coi-Coi, which has been retaken by the Indigenous community with CAM’s support. They are repelled.

December 26, 2023: Government spokesperson Senator Camila Vallejo rejects a proposal by the Human Rights Institute to set up talks with the CAM.2

January 3, 2024: A protest by the Families of the Political Prisoners on the highway is brutally attacked by armored police with water cannons.

January 11, 2024: The Concepción Court of Appeal denies the appeal for annulment of the convictions of Nicolás Alcamán, Ernesto Llaitul, Esteban Henríquez, and Ricardo Reinao. They refer the case back to the Los Ángeles court.

January 13, 2024: The Los Ángeles court states that it is not possible to hear the appeal as the relevant judges are on holiday.

Minister Monsalvo assures that the government has transferred extra funds 32 million dollars to both police forces (gendarmería and caribineros).

The National Institute of Human Rights arranges for a team from the Medical Association to assess. They report that Esteban “requires urgent and comprehensive medical attention.” He is in urgent need of hospitalization. “If he does not receive this assistance, there is a high probability that he will suffer a serious decompensation, deterioration of multiple organs and multi-organ failure, which could lead to his death.”

Esteban is transferred to Concepción regional hospital due to his acute state of health.

January 16, 2024: The gendarmerie return Esteban to Bio-bío prison, ignoring the doctors’ concerns.

Families of the PPM take direct action in the Presidential Office in Bio-bío. Their banners read “65 days on Hunger Strike” and “Defense of the Land Is not Terrorism or a Crime. Free the CAM Political Prisoners!”

January 17, 2024: Two doctors were allowed in Temuco prison to evaluate the condition of the PPM there. They report that the five prisoners have each lost nine to fourteen kilograms since their hunger strike commenced thirty-seven days previously. They reported headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and abdominal pains.

Federico Aguirre Madrid, of the Araucanía Institute of Human Rights, calls on the government to respect the prisoners’ rights as Mapuche people.3

January 22, 2024: Application to the Appeal Court in Concepción to hear the appeal against conviction of Esteban, Nicolás, Ernesto, and Ricardo. The week of protests starts.

February 9, 2024: Date of appeal hearing.


1. For a report on previous hunger strike, see Andy Higginbottom, “Mapuche Political Prisoners Hunger Strike Reaches Critical Stage,” MR Online, January 11, 2023.

2.Ante propuesta del INDH, Vallejo dice que la CAM no ha mostrado ‘ninguna disposición al diálogo,’” Cooperativa.cl, December 26, 2023.

3. Radio Kvrruf, Facebook video, January 17, 2024.