On 7 August 2020, mother and daughter, Iris Rosales Quiñilén (53) and Rosa Quintana Rosales (17), who lived in the Juan Pinoleo Mapuche community in Ercilla, were found hanged inside their home.
Given that there were no other obvious bodily injuries the Medical Examiner returned a verdict of death by suicide, just 24 hours later.
Both women were Mapuche rights activists and defenders of the land who had recently denounced extractive violence by foresters and the militarisation of the Wallmapu region by the Special Forces police, who have often attacked unarmed Mapuche. Mapuche rights organisation, “Frente de Mujeres Progresistas Tati Allende”, has expressed concern that the police immediately ruled out the involvement of third parties, due to the similarities with the case of the murder of environmental activist Macarena Valdés 4 years ago. The death of Macarena Valdes is widely believed to have been a murder disguised as a suicide, also by hanging.
The deaths of Iris and Rosa happened against a background of increasing tension in the region caused by the activities of transnational mining and logging companies, and the failure of the state to recognise the rights of the Mapuche people.
According to the Network of Mapuche Women, (Red de Mujeres Mapuche), “There is an ongoing smear campaign against the Mapuche, financed by the business community and some transnational companies that only seek to exploit the land without taking into consideration that the land is sacred, and destroying its biodiversity. They leave us without water, they kill the animals, they destroy everything”.
The statement continued. “Since 2014, with the militarisation of the Wallmapu region, everything has become radicalised, with a constant struggle for those who live there. The Special Forces fire without consideration. They use violent tactics against us ”.
Chilean forestry companies now own and exploit the lion’s share of Mapuche land, while the Mapuche themselves earn approximately 60 percent less than the average Chilean and live in substandard and overcrowded conditions, often without access to potable water or electricity. More than half have not completed secondary school, and many of their parents never learned to read and write in Spanish.
A new generation of Mapuche leaders are no longer willing to accept the status quo. There have been a series of recent land occupations to protest at the arrest of community leaders, which in turn have resulted in violent forced evictions, all of which adds to the general climate of violence and tension in the region.