• Trucker Association Protests Lack of Safety in Southern Chile
  • Protests Coincide with Student and Pro Indigenous Marches

Truck drivers in Chile are blocking highways to the capital Santiago to protest a lack of safety and attacks on vehicles in southern Chile allegedly done by pro-indigenous groups.

The truckers, who have been driving from southern Chile’s Araucania region, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) south of the capital, plan to enter downtown Santiago Thursday. The government has said that only a single truck will be allowed to enter the capital. The standoff has resulted in lengthy traffic jams on roads leading to the south and to the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Drivers complain that the government has been unable to provide security and stop incendiary attacks in the south. Organized groups in the Araucania region, where a large part of Chile’s forestry industry is concentrated, have been targeting the trucks and setting them ablaze after forcing their drivers out. Fliers usually left after the attacks show support for Mapuche indigenous groups that are demanding the return of their historic territory.

"The real problem isn’t the truckers’ march, but rather the terrorism and crime," Chile’s Truck Owners Confederation said in a statement on its website. "The attacks are frequent and destroy our sources of income."

The march represents the latest challenge to the government of President Michelle Bachelet, who has seen her popularity fall to a record low. Student groups plan to march again Thursday demanding that the government fulfill its campaign promise of free quality education for all. Teacher unions have gone on strike against testing requirements, and residents living adjacent to some of Santiago’s most affluent municipalities have been banging pots at night to protest against insecurity.

"We are open to hearing proposals from the truck drivers," Interior Minister Jorge Burgos told reporters Thursday at the presidential palace. "No doubt that there has been a failure by the state, the courts, the prosecutors, the government, in bringing those responsible of the attacks to justice,"

Chile annexed the land of the Mapuches in the late 19th century in a grab that some historians call the "Pacification of Araucania."

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