November 21, 2018 / 12:17 PM / 24 days ago

Political fallout mounts in Chile following shooting of Mapuche man

SANTIAGO, Nov 21 (Reuters) - The top government official in the restive Araucania region of Chile resigned late on Tuesday amid mounting political fallout after a controversial police raid last week ended in the shooting of an indigenous Mapuche man.

Luis Mayol, the local intendent, or governor, of the Araucania region and a member of conservative President Sebastian Pinera’s ruling coalition, resigned amid criticism of his handling of the incident.

His exit comes one week after Camilo Catrillanca, the grandson of a local indigenous leader, was shot in the head during a police operation in a rural community near the town of Ercilla, 480 miles south of Santiago.

The incident sparked fury among opposition parties and human rights activists, and triggered widespread protests throughout Chile.

Mayol has been criticized for linking Catrillanca to recent car thefts by opposition lawmakers. He has since stood by his handling of the controversy.

“I regret the pettiness and political smallness of [the opposition]...I leave my post knowing that I did nothing wrong,” he told reporters late on Tuesday.

Chilean police initially said it was unclear who shot Catrillanca because none of the members of the special forces unit that handled the raid had worn body cameras.

But one of the policemen involved was later spotted in media footage wearing a camera. The policeman told investigators he had removed the camera’s memory card following the raid and destroyed it with scissors.

Local prosecutors launched an investigation earlier this week at the behest of the Pinera administration to determine who shot Catrillanca, and why.

The shooting and revelations that followed have heightened tensions in the Araucania, a lush, rural region of rolling hills and snow-capped volcanoes that is also Chile’s least developed province.

The region’s Mapuche indigenous residents accuse the state and private companies of taking their ancestral land, draining its natural resources, and using undue violence against them. Their communities are among the poorest in Chile.

President Pinera announced a $24 billion action plan in September to bring an end to the conflict by boosting infrastructure investment and support for local entrepreneurs and tourism, but fallout from the controversial raid threatens to slow progress.

In an interview with Reuters, Chile’s Minister of Social Development Alfredo Moreno, who oversees the program, said the administration’s plans would proceed.

“I don’t think they will be delayed. What we do need to do is work to rebuild dialogue in the region,” he said.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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