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“We are Mapuche and we are here because the Mapuche people, Mapuche children are being repressed, all the time, every day,” said Jessica Mardoqueo, who marched with her daughter. “You watch the TV every day and you see the torture, the deprivation. It is shameful. That’s why I am here, to stand by them against this repression.”

Mapuche activists marched alongside representatives of Chile’s diverse indigenous communities Oct 12. Photo by Sam Edwards/ The Santiago Times

Source: The Santiago Times

Demonstrators took to the streets Saturday to celebrate indigenous culture, demand political self-determination and decry the government’s response to the ongoing disputes over land rights in the South of the country.

Forming a sea of color, music and tradition, thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Santiago in support of indigenous rights this Columbus Day in a lively, but peaceful, protest.

While a carnival atmosphere and traditional customs were abundant, tensions with the Chilean government and police force were never far away.

Addressing the crowd, speakers referenced the frequently fraught relationship between Mapuche communities and the state. References to ongoing conflicts over disputed land, the treatment of incarcerated Mapuche activists and numerous allegations of police brutality were prominent in both speeches and the signs carried by demonstrators.

Patricia Lienlaf, spokeswoman for Meli Wixan Mapu — the Mapuche campaign group leading the protest — said the march sought to denounce systematic brutalization of indigenous communities in the South of Chile.

“We are marching against state terrorism,” said Lienlaf. “We are here to say enough of state terrorism, enough of militarization and police agents in our communities which is happening now in our territories and keep our community, our children, women, elders and men repressed. We are all stigmatized by this fight.”

Among the many flags were banners in memory of fallen activists. Photo by Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis / The Santiago Times‘For all the people’

Alongside Santiago locals were several Mapuche communities who had made the journey from the Araucanía Region in Southern Chile. Like many of those in attendance, Jessica Mardoqueo marched with her daughter in what she described as an act of solidarity with communities engaged in land disputes in the South.

“We are Mapuche and we are here because the Mapuche people, Mapuche children are being repressed, all the time, every day,” Mardoqueo told The Santiago Times. “You watch the TV every day and you see the torture, the deprivation. It is shameful. That’s why I am here, to stand by them against this repression.”

The march brought together people from all over Santiago and beyond representing indigenous communities from across the length of the country. Once in Parque Forestal, traditional dance and music shared the stage with hip-hop performed in a mixture of Spanish and Mapungdungún, the traditional language of the Mapuche.

Isabel Pakarati Takano, standing next to a flag of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island, was excited to see all the diversity.

“This is a national march for people from all over Chile, the indigenous Mapuche from the South, the Aymara and everyone from the North, and from Easter Island, Rapa Nui,” Takano told The Santiago Times. “We are part of the indigenous community Pakarati — from Easter Island — and so we wanted to participate to be a part of everything that is happening, for all the people from all different communities.”

While crowds watched the cultural events and sampled traditional food, however, conflict broke out between police and “encapuchados,” or “hooded ones” along the side streets. A common feature of protests in Chile, “encapuchados” often appear immediately after a march and begin vandalising street signs and sidewalks in an effort to bait police into action.

The dull thuds of rocks on traffic lights was soon answered by the acrid smell of tear gas and water cannon laced with irritant as Carabineros — Chile’s uniformed police — engaged the “encapuchados” who responded in turn by throwing missiles and several Molotov cocktails. The large numbers of riot police present launched a counter-offensive marking several arrests and ensuring the conflict was relatively short-lived.