State and paramilitary repression of the Mapuche peoples

     |    Wednesday, der 10. February 2010

The conflict that began in 1990 in southern Chile among landowners, lumber   companies and the indigenous population has escalated.

The Mapuche, normally a peaceful tribe, successfully defended their freedom and territories against first Incan and later Spanish colonists. Yet in the past century, they have lost nearly 90 percent of their land. They suffered above all during the Pinochet dictatorship, when indigenous territories were privatized by the state and awarded to transnational lumber companies, who went on to clear the forests of their naturally occurring trees and plant fast growing species that destroyed the forests’ ecological balance and caused soil to become infertile.

The Mapuche have few resources to help them win back their land. They peaceably squat the tracts of land that were given to large conglomerates under Pinochet. Yet members of state police forces and private paramilitary “security companies” belonging to wealthy lumber companies (for example to Hernán Trizano) use violent means to forcibly gain entry into the squatted territories and make arrests under the cloak of anti-terror laws passed during the Pinochet era. At peaceful rallies and protests, children show the casings from bullets and bombs that were thrown at them.

The Chilean police react to peaceful Mapuche civil disobedience and demonstrations with aggression and with increasing regularity, the injuries sustained by Chile’s indigenous population are fatal. As recently as August 12, 2009 a young Mapuche man, Jaime Mendoza Collío, was killed during violent raids of the San Sebastián premises by special police units (GOPE). He died when shot while fleeing. The bullet was from the gun of police officer Miguel Àngel Jara Muñoz. The postmortem investigation by the official medical department (SML) in Angol reached the same conclusion as Chile’s criminal investigation department (PDI): Collío’s death was caused by bullet to the back while Collío himself had no traces of gunpowder on his hands.

This shows that the statement by the police – that police officer Muñoz actrd in self-defense – was false testimony. In spite of this proof, the police version was accepted by both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the head of the police. The police officer in question was held in custody for just 23 days before being acquitted.

Trials involving Mapuche generally never reach the official justice system, they usually are heard by partisan military courts. Moreover, the Pinochet era (1984) anti-terror law (Nr. 18.314) is used exclusively against the Mapuche.   This law allows the state to keep “terror suspects” in prison for months, or years. The right of the accused to mount a defense is limited; statements by  prosecution witnesses are made anonymously, making it impossible for the defense to verify them. In addition to prison sentences, those convicted under these laws are banned for 15 years from taking political, educational, civil or trade union office. This law is mostly used against politically engaged Mapuche who, through civil disobedience, stand up for their people and demand their land back.

Meanwhile, the radical Arauco Malleco Mapuche group have announced that they intend to denounce their Chilean citizenship and declare war against Chile and proclaim as independent Mapuche territory the region south of the BíoBío River. Some Mapuche, along with non-belligerent protests and squatting, have begun to attack and set on fire the trucks used by large lumber companies to transport wood they have taken from Mapuche territories. Meanwhile, more and more Mapuche are sentenced to prison for many years through questionable use of preventative anti-terror laws.

Support the Mapuche peoples and sign the protest letter we have prepared to send to Chilean President Bachelet.

The Chilean government has already ratified the UN declaration concerning the rights of indigenous peoples. It states specifically in Article 26 that indigenous peoples retain rights to the areas, the land, and to resources that they have traditionally held. Work together with us to demand that Chile immediately comply with the UN declaration and return the Mapuche lands seized at the time of the dictatorship.

Author: Magdalena Markones Nov. 6, 2009