Linconao and Curamil: the cost of protecting nature in Araucania

Francisca Linconao and Alberto Curamil are Mapuche and environmental defenders. Both won judicial protection for natural environments and were later charged with serious crimes, and subsequently prosecuted and acquitted. Their cases show that belonging to an indigenous people and defending the land can be doubly dangerous in Chile.

-This is going to be the last interview I do. After this one there are no more. I’m tired, I have a headache every day and it’s getting worse and worse. I’m done.

Francisca Linconao Huircapan, 63, sits in the dining room of her home in the community of Padre Las Casas, in the Araucania Region, southern Chile. She freezes her gaze on the garden, frowns, swallows saliva, extends her right hand and softly bangs on a wooden table while, with accumulated rage, she announces she will no longer receive the press. Each of her sentences is followed by an overwhelming silence. When she falls silent, all that can be heard is the chirping of chickens and a chimango caracara (Milvago chimango) in the neighboring yard trying to dismember a pig’s remains.

Linconao’s bitterness is not whimsical. Although she would like to forget them, she remembers the images that were disseminated of her when she was arrested for -allegedly- participating in an arson attack that killed a married couple in 2013. In addition to being handcuffed, accompanied by police officers, and visibly upset, she was photographed without the hairstyle and clothing that she should wear as a machi.

Because there are many ways to introduce Francisca Linconao, but for her that is the most important: she is a machi, an ancestral Mapuche authority who -according to the native people’s beliefs- can heal physical and soul ailments through medicinal herbs and rites. Mapuche spirituality holds that it is not a voluntary occupation, but a calling revealed through a peuma (or dream) which cannot be refused.

Machi Francisca Linconao. Foto: Benjamín Miranda.

Machi Linconao was charged twice for the crime of murdering the Luchsinger Mackay couple, and twice the justice system acquitted her. The Chilean Public Prosecutor’s Office tried to prove that she organized the arson attack that killed the Luchsinger Mackay, that she gathered the perpetrators in her house a few hours before the crime, that she accompanied them to the property of the elderly couple that burned to death in January 2013 and that she then hid her alleged accomplices. However, the accusations were discredited one after another in court. The Public Prosecutor’s Office also tried to pin the crime of illegal possession of weapons and ammunition on her, but the justice system determined that there was not even one piece of evidence to confirm that the shotgun found in her house was hers. The defense declared that the appearance of the weapon was a set-up, but the complaint was never investigated.

By then, Machi Linconao was already a household name for the media and the judiciary. She first made headlines in 2009, when she succeeded in stopping the chainsaws of a well-known local businessman who was illegally cutting down trees on Rahue Hill, where she used to forage for her medicinal herbs. This was a landmark ruling, as she won the hill’s protection by applying to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169 on indigenous peoples, the first time such Convention was applied for in Chile.

Her victory marked a milestone in the protection of the environment in the country. Particularly in La Araucania, an area rich in vegetation and ecosystems that are home to or claimed by Mapuche communities. Several of these communities denounce that those lands are under permanent threat of being damaged by the activities of forestry and logging companies.

In the eyes of Jaime Lopez, the lawyer who represented the machi when she was involved in the fateful fire, the ruling that achieved the protection of Rahue Hill also had its costs.

-It is evident that it was at that moment that she came on the radar of the police and their intelligence tools. Before that she was known, but only at the community level, for her work as a healer. However, the lawsuit she won in favor of the Rahue Hill made her a target for police forces- says Lopez.

Jaime López, abogado defensor de la machi Francisca Linconao. Cortesía de Jaime López.

This is not speculation or a vague suspicion. An officer of the Intelligence Section of the Carabineros, the Chilean uniformed police, confirmed this during one of the two trials where the machi appeared as defendant. “That she was later involved in such a delicate matter and with such weak evidence on the part of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, suggests, from our perspective, that she was the object of persecution since she managed to protect Rahue Hill,” adds Lopez.

Machi Linconao shares this view and made it known when she testified in court. In court she pleaded her innocence in her characteristic broken Spanish -her native language is Mapuzungun- and with a mixture of anger and fear. Now, sitting in her home, accompanied by her sister Juana, without prosecutors, judges or cameras, her tone remains the same.

I dared to make a claim for the hill, because nobody ever dares to do such things, and I won. Then I spent four months in jail accused of something I didn’t do, where I even went on hunger strike because of the injustice they were doing me. And no one ever asked me for forgiveness when I was acquitted- she recounts.

-How can I not be sick and angry?- she says.

The Hill’s Protection

She cannot remember the exact day, but she does remember the sound that alerted her. Francisca Linconao was at home on a Monday in September 2008 when she heard chainsaws coming closer and closer to her property. When she looked out the door, she realized that the noise was coming from Rahue Hill, where a native forest of great significance for the Mapuche culture grows. 

There are native trees such as laurel, mate, maiten and canelo. These are plants that, according to Mapuche belief, have properties to cure pains and illnesses depending on how they are applied: the decoction of the canelo bark, for example, is used as a treatment against scurvy, while laurel leaf infusions are used as a general analgesic.

“Where one sees life as a machi, companies see only money or profit”

Machi Linconao

On the same hill there were also menoko, sacred sites that also stand out for their biodiversity, such as the springs – or wetlands – abundant in water and shrub vegetation. These are cultural and medicinal spaces of the utmost importance for the machi, as they are, in the words of the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (Conadi, in Spanish), “true reservoirs of traditional flora and microfauna, identified by the local community and invested with diverse religious and traditional meanings.” According to indigenous belief, there is newen around the menoko, a force or energy that transcends the physical plane in the Mapuche cosmovision.

-The first thing I thought was that they were cutting down the menoko, my sacred places, and the lawen (or natural remedies.) Where one sees life as a machi, companies see only money or profit. I immediately set out to find the person responsible and denounce what they were doing to the justice system- she recalls.

Machi Francisca Linconao ingresando a su casa. Foto: Benjamín Miranda.

The company that was logging was Sociedad Palermo Limitada, represented by Alejandro Taladriz Montesinos. It was not just any firm or any neighbor. The Taladriz family has a long tradition in La Araucania, involved with different business sectors. Alejandro’s brother, Emilio Taladriz, was director of the La Araucania Multisector Union between 2012 and 2015, an organization that brings together companies from the salmon, industrial, agricultural, timber, forestry and hotel sectors. He was also regional president of Temuco in the Chilean Chamber of Construction. Between 2014 and 2018, Emilio Taladriz leased a house to the Carabineros Operational Intelligence Unit (UIOE, in Spanish), from where – as CIPER reported – telephone tapping was carried out on Mapuche people considered to be of police interest.

the Supreme Court ratified that Taladriz’s company was engaging in illegal logging that affected the machi’s right to access her medicinal herbs.

Backed by attorney Jorge Faundes, the protection action in favor of Rahue Hill was filed in 2008 and was processed until 2009, when the Supreme Court ratified that Taladriz’s company was engaging in illegal logging that affected the machi’s right to access her medicinal herbs. During the judicial process, the Araucanía Regional Water Directorate confirmed that, on one of the hill slopes threatened by tree cutting, there were three springs that were born as subway water springs and were surrounded by native vegetation. The National Forestry Corporation (Conaf, in Spanish), which is in charge of Chilean forestry policy, also verified on the ground that Taladriz’s company had cut down part of the native forest growing on the southeastern slope of Rahue Hill without its authorization. The affected area was to be used to plant pine trees, an invasive exotic species used for timber exports, but which reduces the growth of araucaria forests and the fauna that depends on them.

The ruling was an unprecedented judicial victory. Among other points, the highest court established that the company “must refrain from cutting native trees and bushes within the perimeter of the 400 meters closest to the existing springs, as this is prohibited by forestry legislation and because these are sacred character for the Mapuche people.” (Follow this link to read an analysis of the sentence by attorney Jorge Faundes).With the Supreme Court’s signature, the menoko and the medicinal herbs used by the machi became protected by the justice system. It was something unprecedented that Francisca Linconao values to this day. But there is something that is still going around in her head.

-Taladriz complied with the court’s decision and did not cut an inch more. However, I wonder: how did no one hear the chainsaws before? How did no one dare to tell them that they couldn’t do that, because there were species sacred to us? If I hadn’t noticed, what would have happened? They might have wiped out the whole hill. Some people don’t know that we have to raise our voices, very loudly, so that the winca (non-Mapuche people) listen to us.

First Trial: the Intelligence Work and the Missing Witness

The usual early morning calm in Vilcun, a town located in La Araucania, was interrupted by sirens and smoke on January 4, 2013. The house of the Granja Lumahue farm, belonging to the Luchsinger Mackay family, was on fire. An unidentified group went there, set fire to the property and then tore it apart. Its occupants, Werner Luchsinger (75) and Vivianne Mackay (69), tried to repel the attack but were burned to death.

The couple’s murder was one of the most emblematic crimes of the so-called “Mapuche conflict,” pitting organizations of this native people against the Chilean State. The recovery of their land and the recognition of their autonomy as a nation-State are the main banners of the indigenous communities. It is a struggle waged on different fronts and with different methods: some take the institutional path, others take arms, some groups dedicate themselves to the burning of land and machinery and others that prefer to exert pressure by taking over institutional buildings such as the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (Conadi) or municipalities.

Machi Linconao had never been linked to any violent act of this kind. That is, until the police raided her house just hours after the fire.

Judicial testimonies provided by carabineros allow to trace a timeline from when they began the investigation to determine who had participated in the attack until they detained the machi at & p.m. of the same day. These testimonies also showed the main gaps in the accuser’s story.

The timeline starts in the dark. At dawn, officials from the Carabineros Intelligence Section (Sipolcar) went to the farm, searched for evidence of the attackers and determined where they escaped to. They found footprints, two unused shotgun cartridges and a cartridge case, elements suggesting an escape in the Rahue Hill’s direction. At an undetermined time, they interviewed a witness who claimed to hear dogs barking, murmuring and trucks heading towards Francisca Linconao’s house, located less than 10 kilometers away.

Terreno de la machi Francisca Linconao. Foto: Benjamín Miranda.

With these clues, they told Carabineros Colonel Pedro Larrondo Borsotto, now retired and then head of operations in La Araucania, that it was necessary to search the machi’s house. Larrondo contacted the prosecutor Juan Pablo Gerli, who contacted the Temuco Guarantees Judge, Nicolas Martinez Conde, who issued a verbal warrant for entry and search at 5 p.m. About 30 carabineros participated: two pickets from the Special Police Operations Group (Gope,) members of the Criminalistics Laboratory (Labocar) and others from Sipolcar. The large contingent was due to the supposed clues collected by Intelligence, since there was a possibility that the attackers were still as the machi’s house, armed.

In the raid, only Francisca Linconao, her sister Juana, her niece Francisca and a minor were found. No trace of the arson’s culprits.

After searching three of the four houses on the machi’s land – where they only found a knife that she used to cut sacks of flour – the start of the audiovisual record of the raid, recorded by the Carabineros, clearly shows that a plainclothes Sipolcar officer, wearing a green shirt, entered the fourth property unaccompanied by the Gope or Labocar. He was carrying a cloth backpack on his shoulder. That enclosed space, with a fire pit in the center, is the one Francisca Linconao used as a ruca, the traditional Mapuche dwelling. 

Another plainclothes Sipolcar officer, wearing a light blue shirt, stood at the door and barred Juana, who tried to enter the place after the policeman. In the video she can be heard being instructed: “Keep her outside, keep her outside (…) stand there”.

There is no recording that shows with certainty what happened once the Intelligence member entered, nor was his identity revealed. The only undeniable fact is that, after this event, a handmade shotgun, ammunition, a ski mask, gloves and 114 pamphlets alluding to the “Mapuche conflict” were found inside.The machi was arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons and ammunition. The Carabineros arrest report, as well as the judicial statement of Colonel Borsotto, made it clear that the preliminary clues and the interview of the witness who pointed to Francisca Linconao as a suspect were taken by Sipolcar. In the document – revealed for the first time by CIPER for this report – it was also stated that, according to witnesses, “the accused constantly cooperates in logistics and hiding people in her home after having committed acts of violence“.

During the investigation, serious irregularities were noted in the work prior to the raid and in the procedure itself.

The trial for illegal possession of arms and ammunition lasted until October 2013. During the investigation, serious irregularities were noted in the work prior to the raid and in the procedure itself. On the one hand, it was never possible to identify the alleged witness who heard trucks heading towards the machi’s house. Carabineros intelligence officers said that they asked him for his identity, but that he refused to reveal it for fear of reprisals. Nor did they give a precise description of the location of her house.

On the other hand, it was not possible to identify the police intelligence official who entered the ruca with a backpack and found the weapon and ammunition, nor where the discovery occurred specifically.In her statement, the machi said that, before the Carabineros’ raid, she entered the ruca and there were no weapons, ammunition or pamphlets there, only an empty box. In its acquittal judgment of October 18, 2013, the Temuco Oral Criminal Trial Court established the defendant’s statements as “credible,” and that “they knew nothing about the existence of these weapons and cartridges.”

“”the evidence was insufficient to prove that both the weapon and the cartridges were in the accused’s custody

Public Prosecutor’s Office

The Public Prosecutor’s Office was unable to prove its thesis. Specifically, the court found that “the evidence was insufficient to prove that both the weapon and the cartridges were in the accused’s custody.” Further, it added: “In addition, there were no fingerprint tests on those elements or witnesses that could prove that they belonged to or could determine any relationship with Francisca or that she was the one who left or hid them there, so her ownership or possession thereof cannot be presumed by the mere fact that they were found in one of the buildings within the property where she, together with the other women, lived.”

Jaime Lopez, defense attorney for Francisca Linconao, says he never doubted her acquittal. “The evidence provided by the Prosecutor’s Office had no support. On the contrary, the investigation process made it clear that their story, supported by Sipolcar’s work, left more doubts than certainties,” he says.

What he did not expect, he says, was for this to be the first chapter in the machi’s legal harassment related with the attack on the Luchsinger-Mackay farm. Four years later, the ancestral Mapuche authority would take the stand once again, this time with accusations of direct participation in the crime.

A Green Nobel Behind Bars

For another Mapuche leader, Alberto Curamil, similar judicial harassment began in 2018. Four years earlier, in 2014, this 43-year-old man, lonko of one of the 130 communities articulated under the umbrella of the Mapuche Territorial Alliance (ATM) and one of the organization’s main leaders that seeks the vindication of the economic, ancestral and political rights of the Mapuche people, led the opposition to two hydroelectric projects on the Cautin River which, according to the indigenous organization’s complaint, would divert and damage its channel.

In August 2018, the Mapuche leader was arrested for an assault on a compensation fund, a private entity that administers social security benefits. Before being acquitted for lack of evidence, he spent a year and four months in pretrial detention.

It is something that we, the leaders of the Wallmapu (Mapuche territory), are exposed to. Unfortunately, that’s how it is. My case and many others prove it,” says Curamil, from his home. Behind him hangs a blue flag with a white eight-pointed star in the center, the emblem used by Mapuche warriors in the 18th century, when they confronted the Spanish.

Unlike machi Linconao, Curamil gained public notoriety because he became one of the faces of a well-known organization in the area. The ATM was born in the middle of the last decade as a result of the discontent of Mapuche communities and has always shown itself open to dialogue with local authorities and unions, unlike other groups. Despite this, the Carabineros Intelligence Unit has kept the ATM under its sights since at least 2017. This was stated in a secret police report revealed by CIPER in 2019, when Camilo Catrillanca -a Mapuche community member who belonged to the same organization- was killed by Carabinero Carlos Alarcon.

Alberto Curamil. Foto: La Tercera.

2014 saw one of the first times Curamil came to the fore for its defense of the Cautin River – which rises in the Lonquimay volcano, also in the Araucania Region, extending 174 kilometers through Temuco. In July of that year, ATM’s lawyers, Manuela Royo and Millaray Caniuman, filed an appeal for protection against Hidroelectrica Alto Cautin S.A., a 6 Megawatt (MW) net generation project promoted by the company Alto Cautin S.A.

This appeal was successful in stopping the preparatory work for the plant, which basically consisted of cutting trees in the area surrounding the riverbed. The claim of the ATM and its lawyers was that the communities that would be affected by the hydroelectric plant were never consulted or considered prior to its approval. Therefore, they requested that the works be suspended and that the resolution of the national government’s Environmental Evaluation Service (SEA, in Spanish,) which had positively qualified its operation, be annulled. A month later, in August of the same year, the Temuco Court of Appeals ordered a temporary halt to the work.

This is a project to take energy from the rivers through gigantic power lines to the north via the interconnected system to satisfy the great energy needs of industries and mining companies,” lonko Curamil said in a 2015 interview.

Alto Cautin S.A. definitively ceased its work in May 2016, following an exempt resolution of the SEA, issued from Santiago.

-The result of this process was considered a victory for the communities and for the organized society of Curacautin. Alberto was already playing a key role in the defense of the river, as he was able to articulate different communities and put them in contact with academics and lawyers to defend the riverbed. Shortly thereafter, he would reaffirm this role with the second project that we managed to stop, the Doña Alicia hydroelectric dam- says Manuela Royo, the lawyer who represented the ATM.

The path they traveled to prevent the operation of this second project started in 2016 and ended two years later, with a Supreme Court ruling that favored the indigenous communities’ claim.

Manuela Royo, abogada representante de la Alianza Territorial Mapuche (ATM).

Doña Alicia was to be a power plant also located on the Cautin River. It would have had a net generating capacity of 6.3 MW and its main works included the construction of a buried adduction channel and a 1.3 hectare reservoir. In total, the project would have involved an area of 12.9 hectares. Legally represented by Spanish engineer Jose Rovira Berengueras, the Doña Alicia hydroelectric plant had an investment of US$20.3 million, according to official information on the website of the Environmental Impact Assessment System (SEIA, in Spanish.)

“It was a bigger fish than Alto Cautin,” says Curamil. In filing the first legal action to prevent the work from operating, he told the local press that the legal action was part of “the defense of Ixofillmogen, or the biodiversity to which we all belong, just like the rivers, the hills and the environment that surrounds us.”

The lonko‘s troubles with the justice system began precisely in 2018. In August of that year, he was suddenly arrested. The charges brought by the Public Prosecutor’s Office related to the robbery of a compensation fund that occurred four months earlier in Galvarino, also in La Araucania.

The origin of the investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office was an anonymous call received in Santiago by the Undersecretariat for Crime Prevention, which is part of the Ministry of the Interior. According to the information contained in the file, this call identified Curamil and five other people as suspects. 

On April 25, 2018, it was learned anonymously, through the telephone number 6004000101 of the analysis and crime information reception center of the Denuncia Seguro program, that Alberto Curamil, Chilean, without occupation, 45 years old, 1.65m tall, olive-skinned, with short black hair; Jose Rodriguez Caceres Salamanca; Victor Llanquileo; Daniela Lopez; Álvaro, alias Toti, Chilean, without occupation; Florencio Lopez, together with three or four male persons, would be involved in this crime of robbery with intimidation and illegal carry of a weapon that occurred in the Los Heroes compensation fund, in Galvarino commune,” reads the document.

Then, in November 2018, the Public Prosecutor’s Office processed the lonko once again and specified his alleged participation: it said that he had arrived at the robbed store on April 24, at 8:30 a.m., with automatic firearms, short firearms and machetes, along with the rest of the alleged involved. After stealing over $76 million pesos (about US$45 thousand) from a vault, Curamil – according to the Ministry – used a cashier as a hostage to neutralize the Carabineros and escape in a vehicle. In that same hearing, the Prosecutor’s Office also mentioned that, after a search in the ATM leader’s house, a 12 gauge shotgun with a warrant for a previous robbery, a second handmade shotgun, a box of 9mm ammunition and several cartridges were found. For all these facts, the Prosecutor’s Office asked for more than 45 years of effective sentence for violent robbery, frustrated homicide of Carabineros and illegal carrying of weapons and ammunition.

“We had abundant evidence of what Alberto did that day and it confirmed that he was never in Galvarino at the time of the assault”.

Manuela Royo.

Meanwhile, the defense argued that Curamil was not even in Galvarino at the time of the events. At that time, the Mapuche leader was more than 50 kilometers away, in Victoria.

-We had abundant evidence of what Alberto did that day and it confirmed that he was never in Galvarino at the time of the assault. That morning we even met in Victoria, when we saw on the news that a common acquaintance of ours, Rodrigo Caceres Salamanca, had been arrested for that crime- says attorney Royo, who at the beginning participated in the trial as Curamil’s defender and later as his own witness, since he had seen and accompanied him in another place on the same day of the events.

The lonko was remanded in custody between August 2018 and December 2019. At that time he was decorated with the Goldman Environmental Prize, also called the ‘Environmental Nobel’ or ‘Green Nobel,’ awarded to environmental defenders.

Créditos: Goldman Environmental Prize.

The Goldman Foundation of the United States, organizer of the award, noted that Curamil “is a highly respected leader and spokesperson for the Mapuche Territorial Alliance (ATM,) and has dedicated his work to the protection of the region’s rivers and forest (…) Both communities and those involved in the resistance to the hydroelectric projects unanimously believe that Alberto Curamil was arrested because of his role in the struggle to stop their advance.” The award’s communications director, Ian Kayatsky, added that the lonko was awarded “because of his fierce leadership in coalition building and for his powerful advocacy to protect the Cautin River and Mapuche territory. He has been a steadfast advocate for his people and for the land and rivers and deserves the attention and respect of the international community.

As Curamil was still in custody, his daughter Belen and community member Miguel Melin attended the awards ceremony in April 2019 in San Francisco.

-I think it helped to make visible the struggle and the work we were doing in our territory, which contradicted the accusations against us by the government and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. They accused us of being delinquents, saying that we were practically criminals and that we were taking advantage of the cause. I think that, more than anything, the award served as a proof, a statement about my work. However, the court had the last word- Curamil reflects.

Créditos: Goldman Environmental Prize

That last sentence was given on December 23, 2019 by the Temuco Criminal Oral Trial Court: acquittal

The justice system determined that it could not be proven that Curamil had participated in the assault, since no witness or direct victim recognized him and there were only hearsay witnesses cited by Carabineros. No further details were provided about the anonymous complaint made to the special telephone number of the Ministry of the Interior and it could not be proved that the lonko owned the weapons and ammunition found in his house, since he was not present at the raid and the police never specified where they found them on the property. Finally, the judges considered that having Victor Llanquileo Pilquiman, who was convicted along with Rodrigo Caceres Salamanca in this case, among his Facebook contacts, was not a sufficient argument to sustain his link to the assault, as Carabineros tried to postulate through a “social networks analysis.

Following his acquittal, Curamil says that he and Manuela Royo are preparing a civil lawsuit against the Chilean State.

-They tried to stigmatize our legitimate demands and they slandered me as a criminal with a very crude set-up. Here there is an intention to condemn the Mapuche at any cost, with or without proof. That is the greatest rage we face- he says.

Attorney Manuela Royo also has her own history of harassment. A member of the Mapuche Criminal Defense Office, a non-profit organization, she says she has experienced “abnormal situations” that she relates to her legal representation of community members, such as the presence of plainclothes Carabineros outside her home in Temuco and cars guarding her home 24/7. 

One of the episodes she remembers most, however, has to do with her private life: one day, in 2018, she went out to lunch with an ATM spokesperson and her then-partner received photographs of that lunch from an anonymous number, with a message alleging infidelity.

-Just as the criminalization of Mapuche leaders is not a new issue, neither is the use of these harassment or surveillance methods against those of us who represent and accompany these leaders. While it is angering that someone we know is arrested or accused of a crime, it is still routine. And so are the consequences we face- Royo concludes.

Second and Third Acquittal of the Machi: the Flanks of the Prosecutor’s Office

-What are you tired of, machi?

-From having to remember.

Francisca Linconao never relaxes her frown. Except when she talks about the two trials, she experienced during the Luchsinger-Mackay case. She says that, since then, she has suffered irreparable physical and mental exhaustion. She claims that the time she spent in pretrial detention triggered a chronic headache and gastroenteritis. These pains may also be a consequence of the hunger strike she held between December 23, 2016 and January 5, 2017, while under house arrest. She reached a weight of 43 kilos at the age of 60.

The second chapter of her judicial harassment was written in 2017, four years after she was acquitted for illegal possession of weapons and ammunition.

The machi was involved again when the testimony of Jose Peralino Huinca, a compensated whistleblower who is now serving a probation sentence for the Luchsinger-Mackay case, came to light. Peralino testified three times: in November 2013, October 2015 and March 2016. The first time, he stated that he participated in the fire that killed the couple and that he witnessed a meeting that the machi organized at her house the night before. His statement placed Francisca Linconao as the mastermind and direct participant.

But in his third statement, the only one made in a public hearing, he said that he had been pressured by officers of the Investigative Police (PDI) to sign the 2013 statement, that he had signed it without the presence of a lawyer, that he cannot read or write fluently and that he even thought of killing himself when the persecution against those targeted began.

the compensated whistleblower had “a social maturity equivalent to that of a 12 years old

Patricia Condemarín Bustos.

A June 2016 expert report by University of Chile psychologist Patricia Condemarin Bustos concluded that the compensated whistleblower had “a social maturity equivalent to that of a 12 years old.” In conclusion, that analysis showed that Peralino “presents a mental deficiency that affects his psychological functioning and his language, making him unable to give testimony with the language structure, wording and vocabulary appearing in the statements of October 2015 and November 2013, consistent with the claims of having been pressured by police personnel to sign such statements.

That, however, did not matter. The Prosecutor’s Office continued with the clues given by the defendant in her first two statements. In her version, Francisca Linconao had a fundamental role in the attack on the Lumahue farm. Based on that statement, a PDI expert made a 3D animated recreation of the alleged meeting at the machi’s house the night before the fire.

Francisca Linconao was placed in the animation in front of a group of 30 people, giving instructions and, later, crossing a wooden fence that protected the house of the Luchsinger-Mackay couple.

“It was laughable, seeing a recreation of the machi, at 56, with her extremely thin frame, running, dodging obstacles and leading a mob of alleged terrorists”.

Jaime López.

-It was laughable, seeing a recreation of the machi, at 56, with her extremely thin frame, running, dodging obstacles and leading a mob of alleged terrorists. We did not pay much attention to the recreation, but we did pay attention to a plan that the PDI also made, and which was key to questioning the evidence of the Public Prosecutor’s Office- says attorney Jaime Lopez, who once again took up the machi’s defense, this time alongside his colleague Renato Gonzalez.

The graphic piece referred to by Lopez was important because it established that the machi had to travel between eight and ten kilometers (the distance between her house and that of the deceased couple) in seven minutes. It also showed that the last evidence gathered by Sipolcar in the early morning of January 4, 2013 was more than a kilometer from the defendant’s property, just before a ravine.

These revelations once again cast doubt on the justification for the raid on the machi’s house, which took place four years earlier. In addition, in this new process, Carabineros Sergeant Marco Gaete Truan, who by January 2013 was working for Sipolcar, testified.

In fact, Gaete had participated in the gathering of evidence that targeted the machi in the first trial and his words fueled the feeling among the defense lawyers Francisca Linconao was the victim of a frame-up that time.

Asked about the alleged witness he interviewed in the early hours of January 4, Gaete said that, despite being bound by law, he did not take him to a police station when he refused to give his name because, in his words, he was providing information of interest to the investigation. When asked for details about the appearance of the witness, he only said that he was between 30 and 40 years old, with black hair, normal build and black clothes. “It was nighttime, and you couldn’t see much,” he added.

Our interpretation is simple: the witness never existed, says Lopez

In this trial, the plaintiffs also used as evidence the alleged pamphlets they found in the machi’s ruca. Although they had presented 114 in the indictment, when Gaete – who had also been present at the raid – counted them in front of the hearing, 122 appeared. The prosecution was unable to explain the discrepancy between the numbers. The next day, the machi’s defense showed that the image on some of these pamphlets also appeared on the Wikipedia page dedicated to the “Mapuche conflict.

In the eyes of the defense, the prosecution was trying to implicate the machi in one of the most terrible crimes ever committed in the area, and it was failing miserably to prove so.

For the first trial, the machi’s defense was already saying that the accusations were a frame-up. Now, in light of the new clues, they said it openly: Carabineros planted evidence to accuse Francisca Linconao of crimes she did not commit. In the eyes of the defense, the prosecution was trying to implicate the machi in one of the most terrible crimes ever committed in the area, and it was failing miserably to prove so.

Machi Linconao also expressed this publicly. In a 2016 interview, she said that “there is persecution here and that the Taladriz and all the rich people here are behind it. It hurt them when I won that lawsuit in the Supreme Court to protect the lawen (natural remedies) of the huincul (the hill). I later claimed that land in Conadi and they gave us applicability. Today, they are all against me.” In that interview she revealed two previously unpublished details: that her sister Juana had worked for over half a century as an employee in the house of the deceased couple and that she had invited Werner Luchsinger to the ceremony she held when she took over as machi. In court, she would add that Luchsinger himself was present at a Ñeicurrewen, an intimate ceremony that is only attended by invitation and where a machi renews his or her energy.

The verdict came on October 25, 2017. The 11 defendants, including Machi Linconao, were acquitted  due to lack of evidence. The Temuco court concluded that “the aforementioned prosecution evidence provided was insufficient to convince these Judges regarding the defendants’ participation” in the arson attack.

To this end, the judges determined that “the only source of information from which all other imputation evidence derives, regarding the participation of the accused, is constituted by the two statements made by Jose Peralino Huinca during the investigation phase. However, in our opinion, the statement dated November 8, 2013 suffers from illegal defects that prevent granting it evidentiary merit.

This was the machi’s second acquittal for this case. However, the plaintiffs in the case – the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Luchsinger family – appealed the sentence, obtained a mistrial, and the trial had to be repeated with the same evidence the following year. The Luchsinger family went to the Court of Appeals because, although they were close to the machi, the acquittal included all the accused, and they were not satisfied with the resolution. “There were flaws and contradictions in the ruling,” said Jorge Luchsinger Mackay, who represented his family, when the annulment of the trial was confirmed.

although it had not been a criminal issue but a civil one, the machi has been the focus of the institution’s attention ever since

Sergeant Gaete, Carabineros Intelligence

For the machi’s defense, this last judicial process had no major changes. The biggest novelty was that Sergeant Gaete, a member of Carabineros Intelligence, testified for the second time and corroborated that Francisca Linconao had been the object of police interest since she obtained the protection of the Rahue Hill in 2009. According to the officer, although it had not been a criminal issue but a civil one, the machi has been the focus of the institution’s attention ever since. This statement confirmed the suspicions of defense attorneys Lopez and Gonzalez. 

The trial was finally closed in June 2018. The machi was acquitted of the charges for the third time.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office could not prove that the attack had been orchestrated at Francisca Linconao’s house, limiting the sentence to point out that there was a meeting at 10 p.m. on January 3, 2013 in an undetermined place which included the three men convicted in this process (Jose Peralino Huinca, Luis Tralcal Quidel and José Tralcal Coche.) But not her.

-There were no clues pointing to my house, I had no weapons, there was no meeting. I never had anything to do with the death of the Luchsinger Mackay family and I proved it three times- says Francisca Linconao, who after her third acquittal filed a lawsuit against the Chilean State before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

That was the last time Francisca Linconao set foot in a court of law as a defendant. However, the emotional and mental repercussions of this process continue to affect her. When she went to her polling place last October 25, 2020 to participate in the plebiscite intended to approve or reject the drafting of a new Constitution in Chile, she was told that she was ineligible to vote. 

More than a month later, she held a Zoom meeting with the president of the Electoral Service (Servel), Patricio Santamaria, who explained to her that the fault did not lie with the institution, but with the courts that never informed him of her acquittal in the Luchsinger-Mackay case. That is why she did not appear on the electoral roll.

“When I was accused my face was everywhere because they are good for lawsuits and accusations. For that, they will be ready, but now nothing”.

Francisca Linconao.

Francisca Linconao’s reflection on this “injustice”, as Santamaria and the machi herself described it, could be interpreted as a snapshot of the last 13 years of her life.

-How could anyone not inform that I was acquitted, two or three years after the trial? When I was accused my face was everywhere because they are good for lawsuits and accusations. For that, they will be ready, but now nothing. They are used to screwing the Mapuche over. And many are also used to not complaining, because after I dared to do so, other defendants who could not vote either also came forward. And what if I keep quiet? Well, everything would remain the same.

 * In January 2021, machi Francisca Linconao announced her candidacy for the constituent convention, the political body composed of democratically elected members that will be in charge of drafting Chile’s new constitution. This paper was reported and written prior to that date.

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