Groups behind a string of arson attacks in southern Chile have had contact with Colombian Marxist rebel group the FARC, according to a Chilean government minister.
Referring to a radical faction of Chile's indigenous Mapuche people, who have long demanded the return of ancestral territory they say was unlawfully taken, Government Minister Cristian Larroulet told news agency EFE, "We are in the presence of an organized terrorist group, with terrorist methods, with international links that provide them with training, with skills and with contact with the [Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia] FARC."
On January 4, an elderly couple was burned alive while trying to protect their landholdings in Araucania region. Other attacks in the region in recent days have burned logging equipment and a barn.
In an open letter to President Piñera on January 5, Mapuche leader Juana Calfunao denied responsibility, offering condolences to the relatives of those killed and criticizing the inhumane treatment of her people by the Chilean government -- an accusation also made by the US non-governmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW).
President Sebastian Piñera flew to the area and announced that Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws -- which allow indefinite detention and trial in military courts -- would be invoked to prosecute the perpetrators, and the number of police in the region would be doubled.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is not the first time the FARC has been accused of working with the Mapuche Indians. In 2010, Colombia's Prosecutor General's Office handed its Chilean counterpart a 200-page dossier of evidence allegedly demonstrating that members of the Arauco-Malleco Coordination Group (CAM), a group of radical Mapuche activists, had trained at a FARC camp in Ecuador.
A Chilean prosecutor claimed that files found on the computer of the slain FARC leader "Raul Reyes" (killed in 2008), linked CAM members to the Colombian guerrilla group.
While this is not the first report of links between the FARC and CAM, it remains to be seen if there is any substantial working relationship between the two.
Strategically, it is unclear how the FARC would benefit from ties with the Chilean group. The Chilean government, on the other hand, could be seeking to justify the enactment of harsh anti-terrorism laws by invoking links between the CAM and the Colombian guerrillas. HRW has accused successive Chilean governments of abusing this legislation.
The FARC has also been accused of aiding rebels fighting the nearby state of Paraguay. Other documents found on Reyes' computer showed the FARC had sent advisers to Paraguay and had trained members of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP), according to claims made by a Paraguayan prosecutor in 2010. The Colombian government had made similar claims some years earlier.