SANTIAGO, Chile – Chile's national police force on Friday fired an officer convicted of killing a Mapuche activist five years ago, a death that has been cited repeatedly by the Indians as evidence that authorities abuse them with impunity.
Interior Minister Andres Chadwick released a statement praising the decision to fire Lt. Walter Ramirez.
Ramirez was convicted of unnecessary violence resulting in the death of Matias Catrileo, a Mapuche Indian who was shot in the back in Araucania on Jan. 3, 2008. But he wasn't jailed and remained on the force, a sore point for the Mapuches. Their protests this year on the anniversary of the Catrileo killing set off a fresh wave of violence, including the burning deaths of an elderly couple whose property is near where Catrileo died.
"The government fully supports the action of the police," Chadwick's statement said. "Everything that occurred does not damage Chile's police as an institution, quite the contrary — it shows that the force always follows the law."
Ramirez was fired hours after Chile's Comptroller General ruled that an officer can be fired for simply damaging the image of the force.
Catrileo's mother, Monica Quezada, told reporters Friday that it sends an important signal that no one is above the law.
"I hope that this will serve so that it becomes a policy of the state that when an officer commits unnecessary violence resulting in death, the crime does not go unpunished."
Ramirez's lawyer, Gaspar Calderon, told CNN Chile that his client is a victim of "popular justice," and that Chadwick had to offer the Mapuches something ahead of a high-profile negotiation session he'll be attending on Monday.
The Mapuches' demands for the return of their lands and autonomy date back centuries. They resisted Spanish and Chilean domination for more than 300 years before they were forced south to Araucania, Chile in 1881. A small fraction of the Mapuche have been rebelling for decades, destroying forestry equipment and torching trees.