The number of arson attacks and other "acts of violence" has soared in southern Chile's indigenous communities in the week since the killing by police of a young Mapuche man, the government said yesterday.
"There have been 101 acts of violence" in the week since 24-year-old Camilo Catrillanca was shot dead in a police operation, interior ministry official Rodrigo Ubilla told a press conference.
Sporadic violence has dragged on for years in the Araucanía and Bío Bío regions of southern Chile – home to most of the nation's indigenous Mapuche.
"What happens in these regions is not equivalent to other areas of the country – we are facing a special situation that has dragged on for decades," said Ubilla.
Radical Mapuche activists have claimed "resistance attacks" in the area as part of their claims for the return of ancestral lands.
Since 2011, 20 people have been killed in Mapuche-related violence, with 2,895 "acts of violence," including 920 firebomb attacks, according to the government.
But violence has spiked over the past week amid the scandal surrounding Catrillanca's death.
President Sebastián Piñera last week described the killing as "lamentable" but gave his backing to the police unit that carried out the operation. However, initial inquiries into the killing found that the official police recording of the incident had been erased. Subsequently, two senior officers and four paramilitary troops were dismissed.
Chile's police force have been criticised for their heavy-handed response to crimes in Mapuche communities.
The police operation in which the young Mapuche was killed was carried out by the so-called Jungle Commando, a special unit of the Carabineros paramilitary police – some of whose members were trained in Colombia – to counter Mapuche unrest.
Ubilla said the government was bringing in a bill to modernize the police force and give it greater control of the institution, rocked by allegations of corruption and previous accusations that it fabricated evidence in Mapuche cases.
The Chilean state has long been accused of discrimination against the Mapuche people, who centuries ago controlled vast areas of Chile but have since been marginalised.
Considered the earliest inhabitants of parts of Chile, the Mapuche fought against the Spanish conquerors and later the Chilean army after the country's independence in the 19th century.