Mapuche activists are calling for the release from prison of Indigenous healer Machi Francisca Linconao, who has been suffering from severe medical problems and, according to Mapuche advocates, is in jail as a result of her fights against illegal logging in her region of southern Chile and for proving Chile’s violation of an international treaty protecting indigenous rights. (Linconao is a Machi, a revered healer of bodies and spirits in the Mapuche tradition.)
Linconao along with 10 other people was charged with setting a fire that killed wealthy landowner Werner Luchsinger and his wife Vivianne Mackay in January of 2013. On the day after the fire, Chilean police raided Linconao’s home, and, according to her later lawsuit, assaulted her and damaged her sacred vestments.
After three years of investigations she was arrested in May of this year in connection with the arson and sent to the Women’s Prison of Temuco.
Linconao and her allies appealed her imprisonment, arguing that she should be released to in-home detention for humanitarian reasons. According to the Machi Francisca Linconao Support Network (Red De Apoyo a La Machi Francisca Linconao in Spanish) medical reports have shown that Linconao is suffering from severe Hypertension, gastritis, depression and a dramatic loss of weight.
On July 24 the Court of Appeals denied the request and supporters have been staging protests throughout August. Linconao and her supporters are asserting that she was jailed as a way of punishing her for her activism which came at least in part from her role as protector of the forests and sacred Mapuche sites.
“We believe this arrest is an act of vengeance,” according to the Support Network. “…in October of 2015 the First Civil Court of Temuco ordered the Chilean Government to pay $30 million Pesos to the Machi Linconao as the police [in 2013] did not act “with due respect” to her position as a traditional authority.”
The Support Network statement explained that Linconao had successfully invoked both a national and international law in stopping illegal logging and in the Chilean governments violation of Agreement 169 of the International Labor Organization; Chile had signed a treaty to uphold the Agreement in 2008.
It was also in 2008 that Linconao had filed for a protectionary measure against the Palermo Society Ltd. (PSL) owned by the Taladriz family for illegal logging. She charged that it was a violation of Chile’s recent Forest Law.
Linconao was able to prove that PSL “cut down trees within 437 yards of three springs whose sources were in the hills and which violated the sacred ‘Menokos’ – wetlands where sacred natural forces reside according to Mapuche tradition – and that the logging destroyed various medicinal plants,” according to several sources.
In that same suit in 2008 Linconao also proved that Chile had violated Article 13 of Agreement 169 which stipulates that “governments shall respect the special importance for the cultures and spiritual values of the peoples concerned of their relationship with the lands or territories, or both as applicable.”
The Chilean authorities appealed that decision. However, in 2009 the Chilean Supreme Court upheld Linconao’s application and found the government guilty of violating the international agreement.
It was the first time in Chilean history that Agreement 169 was applied in Chile.
In the meantime Linconao is still in jail, months after she sent a letter to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet under whose administration the country signed on to the international treaty that protects indigenous rights.
“I am innocent and the facts presented in the trial show the vengeful work of the police,” Linconao wrote. “Why is the state accusing me again of something I did not do? I could never have imagined having to live through another nighttime raid, transgressing against my sacred space and again traumatizing me. Why is it that you want to harm the image of a Machi?”
As of press time, the Bachelet Administration had not responded to the calls for Linconao’s release.