President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, declared a state of emergency in the country’s south on Tuesday after militant members of the Mapuche indigenous group used “heavy caliber weapons” to attack local police, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Wednesday.
In a speech on October 12, President Piñera said his administration declared a state of emergency in Chile’s south “to be able to protect the population, to safeguard public order and the rule of law.”
The state of emergency order “limits freedom of assembly and movement and also allows the military to support police,” according to the Associated Press (AP). “Such an order by the president can run for a maximum of 15 days, renewable for 15 more days with the agreement of Congress.”
The decree covers 72 communities across two districts of southern Chile, specifically 40 communities in a region known as Biobío and 32 districts in the La Araucanía region.
President Piñera was forced to declare the state of emergency after militant members of a Chilean indigenous group called the Mapuche began attacking local police officers and security forces across Biobío and La Araucanía in recent days.
The Mapuche have issued a list of demands to the Chilean government in recent years, insisting Chilean authorities return their ancestral lands to the group. Santiago has refused to give in to the Mapuche’s extortionist commands, however, and the group’s members often act out in response through violent terror attacks.
In La Araucanía, “violence and conflicts have dragged on for decades, including attacks on forestry machinery and trucks. In Biobío, which neighbors La Araucanía, arsonists burned two churches, one Roman Catholic, one Evangelical,” the AP noted on October 12.
Mapuche militants have burned many Christain churches to the ground across Chile’s south in recent years, in addition to occupying and burning state forestry farms and attacking local schools. Mapuche members have recently used high-caliber weapons to attack local police officers in La Araucanía, the region’s governor revealed to CNN Chile on October 12.
“Today we are living in a very complex situation where the police are overwhelmed by groups with heavy caliber weapons,” La Araucanía Governor Luciano Rivas told the news outlet.
Rivas said he supported President Piñera’s decision to declare a state of emergency order across the country’s south because “the situation that we have experienced in recent times in our region denotes a very deep security crisis.”
Chilean truckers also expressed relief at Piñera’s state of emergency order on Tuesday. Upon learning of the decree, truckers “began to gradually lift road blockades” they recently set up in La Araucanía and Biobío “to demand greater safety on their routes [from Mapuche militants],” the AP noted on October 12.