.Chilean fire-fighting helicopter sabotaged amidst forest fires

Chilean fire-fighting helicopter sabotaged amidst forest fires

02 January 2012

published by www.santiagotimes.cl

Chile — Cryptic messages heighten controversy between indigenous groups and the state.

An unidentified group burned a helicopter belonging to Conaf, Chile’s national forest corporation,  Friday morning. The helicopter was stationed at the Fundo Colo forest base, about 500 miles south of Santiago.

The helicopter was an AS350B3 Ecureuil model CC-CIX, valued at around US$2.5 million, and was one of many helicopters that are currently being used to suppress fires that have engulfed woodland areas throughout Chile, most dramatically in the nearby Bío-Bío Region and in the far southern Torres del Paine national park.

The incident was a source of particular controversy as the perpetrators left politically charged messages sympathetic to the struggle of local Mapuche indigenous groups.

Southern Chile is well known for its confrontations between government forces protecting local forestry companies and Mapuche protesters. These conflicts stem from the sentiment among the Mapuche community that much of their ancestral lands were unfairly taken from them by private companies.

The Chilean Lumber Corporation, an industry lobby group, speculated over the weekend that the forest fires may havebeen caused by extremist Mapuche protesters. But José Llanquileo, head of the the indigenous resistance group, Coordinadora Arauco Malleco (CAM), pointed the finger back at the corporations.

“We say that the ones making these forest fires are from the business sector, but we are not going to play their blame game, rather, we are going to continue recovering our lands,” Llanquileo said. He added that the group had no reason to burn the forest, as the land “ensures life for our people.”

Still, the banners left at the scene of the helicopter fire explicitly allude to the ongoing conflict.

The first banner called for “Freedom to the Mapuche political prisoners and the abducted political prisoners in the jails of the Chilean state,” in a reference to the several Mapuches that have been imprisoned under Chile’s Anti-Terrorist Law, which has long been criticized for its broad application, especially against the Mapuche community.

The second read, “Our dead continue to fight,” giving mention to three Mapuche student protesters killed over the past decade by state forces.

Andrés Molina, mayor of the nearby town of Victoria, said that the incident would not affect the assistance that the government is giving to the Mapuche people in the region, confirming that he did not believe the act represented the feelings of the majority of Mapuches.

“This helicopter served the emergency network of the Araucanía [Region] where it is necessary to combat forest fires; it was working in the [local indigenous] communities and with small farmers to protect their homes. This is a criminal act that threatens our region and our progress,” Molina said.

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