Dozens of Indian communities agreed to form the Mapuche Territorial Alliance to fight for political autonomy, a leader said Saturday after several days of violence over land seizures in southern Chile.
Manuel Calfiu, head of the Mapuche community Meli Wixan Mapu, told The Associated Press that the Indians must confront the government forcefully to win their demands for ending poverty.
"The government does not want to hear us, so there is no other option than to `strike the table' to be heard," he said.
Representing about 6 percent of Chile's 17 million people, Mapuches live in the south in communities of deep poverty and contend government efforts to help them buy land and timber companies isn't enough.
A police operation Wednesday to evict Indians from seized land resulted in the shooting death of a Mapuche protester and injuries
to eight other Indians and three officers in Collipulli, a town 370 miles (600 kilometers) south of Santiago.
The unrest comes after similar clashes in Chile's northern neighbor, Peru, where Amazonian Indians have been protesting government efforts to allow private development of the Indians' traditional lands.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has urged the Mapuche communities to rely on dialogue rather than violence, warning they
are hurting their cause. But demonstrations, land occupations and
arson attacks have continued.
"We do not want more bread crumbs. We want to reclaim our original territory, but the government does not listen to us. For that reason we were united," Juan Catrillanca, head of the Teumcuicui community, told the newspaper El Mercurio.
Catrillanca, whose group is one of the most active in land seizure campaign, added, "Today we are 60 (communities) and soon will be 120"
Mapuches resisted the Spanish conquest for 300 years before Chile's government finally pushed them into communities in southern Chile.