Mapuche Resistance: An indomitable people continue in their struggle for life
“There can be Water without Fish and Peoples without Tyrants,
but there can’t be Fish without Water, nor Tyrants without Peoples”
Periódico Anarquista Regeneración, November 5th. 1910 California, Mexican Revolution
The hunger strike of the the Mapuche Political Prisoners (MPP) in the Southern territories governed by the Chilean State, has recently come to an end. The strike, which began on July 12th lasted 90 days, with the participation of a total of 34 Mapuche rebels, imprisoned in 6 different prisons in the South, including a minor who was also tried under the Anti-Terrorist Law (ATL).
Their demands consisted mainly in ending the application of the ATL, putting an end to the militarization of the Mapuche territory, an end to the dual trials of civil and military justice where there are risks of incurring up to 104 year prison sentences, as well as freedom for the the MPPs, amongst other demands. This action was carried out in a context in which the Mapuche fighters are targeting a fundamental question, the debt of the Chilean State, incurred during all those years of subjugation and due to the capitalism which kills.
We continue our social struggle for autonomy, and not just regarding services but also in terms of our organization. It is the first time that over 30 MPPs support a strike at the same time in different prisons (in addition to the supporting strikes carried out by “civil” society) with these judicial/ legal, territorial and cultural claims against the Chilean state. These strikes highlight what is happening and how the prison system deals with those who are excluded from this model. The most recent actions attempted to undermine the bicentenary celebrations of the republic which took place in September, this time in the hands of Pinera and the staunch neo-liberalist, business minded, right wing conservative government, who are influenced by opus dei.
Remembering that the previous government of La Concertación, which was in power for 20 years after Pinochet, continued to implement terror policies of the Pinochet era, imprisoning, killing and repressing the dissidents who opposed the extreme opening to capitalism in Chile and all the consequences that this entailed.
In the past few years, and as has been recently shown, many sectors adhered to these demands. Hundreds of organisations, thousands of people took to the streets, and we saw the significant support amongst the Mapuches between the different sides of the Wallmapui , including the Argentine region where the same demands for the right to life are also being recognized.
Each time more walls of silence are being broken down in the Southern cone of South America. Unfortunately, social apathy sometimes undermines situations such as these, where in order to be heard, you have to put your lives at risk, the very lives of those who are willing to defend their culture and nature.
The state policy is that of dispossession and repression, and despite this, the mobilization still continues. In June of this year there were 96 MMPs put on trial, 57 of which under the ATL.ii.
Children are not exempt from this repression. For example in October 2009 a minor, F.P.M, 14 years of age from the Rofue Community, near to Temuco, was collecting herbs with the Machi4 when a Chilean Special Operations Unit, militarized police, shot him in the leg, elbow and back. As the child tried to run away he was followed via a low-flying helicopter for almost 3 kilometers. They grabbed hold of him and forced him into the helicopter and beat him whilst he was handcuffed. Once they were in flight with the doors opened they threatened to throw him off if he did not provide names of those who participated in the occupation of a neighboring piece of land in his community. This case was taken to a court but it was declared incompetent in dealing with this matter and so was passed on to the military courtsiii …out of the question. Stories like this are commonplace.
The trigger for the conflict which the Chilean State maintains against the Mapuche people has a long bloody history, as in the majority of the Abya Yala (America) with the so called “indigenous peoples”. On this occasion the Gulumapu Mapuches (the Chilean side), after having resisted the tyranny of the Spanish crown since 1536, maintained their strength until it was militarily occupied by the State, thus violating the Trapihue treaty of 1825 where the republic of Chile recognized that South of the Bio-Bioiv was Mapuche territory. The attack is historically, officially named as “The pacification of Araucanía” since 1861. It was occupation and a massacre which ended up reducing the Mapuche territories to 5%.. The “razed ground” was an everyday occurrence and the state ended up taking away (in 90% of the cases using violence) and redistributing lands to businessmen, the filthy rich, colonists and through pillaging. (These are the lands which we are now reclaiming).
The strongholds became cities in this territory. The Chilean state, having taken over these lands, then began to make their capital and cultural investments, which was the initial plan, thus trying to ensure that in history the Mapuche be seen as “second class citizens”. Although the Chilean state initially saw them as an enemy, it then tried to clean up its image and “integrate” (with reason or force, as their motto states) them as an indigenous people “of” Chile, an example of which can be seen in official discourse and on the 100 pesos coins.
Dispossession, urbanisation and the implementation of a neoliberal model in the sector, monocultures and marked poverty in this region, let to migration from the rural to the urban areas, and therefore it is often the case that in trying to adapt, a sort of cultural amnesia sets in regarding where one comes from and one’s roots.
During the 20th century the exodus from the country to the city becomes more evident and the cultural shock in adapting to the demands of the city.
Fortunately for the new generations, there are those who do not wish to be part of a State which has killed throughout its existence, which has occupied territories with fire, in cahoots with business dynasties, torturing, which make huge profits from natural resources, destroying everything in their wake, attempting to impose and destroy language and traditions. This is why we are reclaiming autonomy and self-determination.
What is certain is that this community has never stayed quiet, despite having suffered injustices and having immigrated to the cities over the past century. Calculating that 60% of the Mapuche population live in these cities, there is a growing uprising with their own objectives as a people. This makes their struggle an interesting proposal of revolt through the recuperation of territories, those which the Chilean state systematically limited. The desire to live as a community with their own cosmologies (visions of the world) and ways of living, be it in cities or in the countryside, in a rigorously capitalist system controlled by oligarchs, is a challenge which the Mapuche people are overcoming through their strength.
The Church and the businesses have affected society in the South of Chile and the power structure since the beginning of this conflict. The Catholic Church has been part of the dialogue between the State and the Mapuche, despite it being evident that both in the present and in the past, their support goes and has been with the former. Christianity incorporated itself and has displaced and interfered with the Mapuche Cosmology, which includes the “recovery of that which was usurped,” which we talk about nowadays.
The uprising for Mapuche lands which began in the early 70s was first put down, first with fire and then with a model and laws promulgated by the military dictatorship, such as the ATL (1984) in which the comuneros went on strike, demanding that the law be repealed (see box) or the Forestry development Law (1974) which led to unscrupulous exploitation of pine and eucalyptus trees in the Mapuche territory, one of the main sticking points of this conflict, which at the moment has led to 58 MPPs being imprisoned, 5 of whom have been sentenced, 42 are in preventive custody and 11 with restraining orders. The statistics vary and the logic of repression up until now has been to accuse them under laws (one of which being the ATL), keep them imprisoned for the maximum time (almost always between 3 months to a year and a half) and after the trial they are released whilst having a close eye kept on them. In other cases they are not so lucky and they can spend years imprisoned in the shadows, as is the case with some Lonkov and the Mapuche
In the majority of cases, the accusation which they make, invoking the antiterrorist law, is due to actions against forest trucks, setting fire of latifundista’s huts, amongst other acts, such as taking of country estates or stealing pine. It has been denounced that public prosecutors offer impunity, decreased sentences and money to some Mapuche so that they accuse others, who are then converted into “witnesses without a face”. Chile has been sanctioned and questioned countless times by Human Rights organizations for such procedures.
The strategy: Neutralize those who are part of the struggle and who question the plunderers in power. Therefore anyone who criticizes the established powers of the state is criminalized, as well as those who demand autonomy through direct action, both in the countryside and in cities. For example, in the city of Temuco, there is increased repression and where there are autonomous social movements which fortunately emerge, they are constantly being monitored by repressive bodies. Prosecutions, raids on okupas, on specific houses, thus creating judicial stages, all happen, as it does in the rest of Chile, which is coupled with the criminalization of anarchists. This is another headache for the state which has taken every opportunity to get their claws out and imprison those in the struggle, without any need of proof.
Various murders have been committed by police towards the Mapuche. In 2002 17 year old Alex Lemun was killed by policeman Marco Aurelio Truer with a gunshot to the head in an operation to recover an estate. Then further up in the force Matías Catrileo (2008), killed in a peaceful recovery operation with a UZI machine gun by policeman Walter Ramirez, who was recently sentenced after a long struggle by the deceased’s family members, which included evidence such as tapes whereby the policemen can be heard inciting homicide. His sentence by the military courts vi involved going to produce documents at an office 36 times throughout a three year period, this time in Patagonian Chile. In 2009 the police murdered Jaime Mendoza Collio during a land recovery operation. The list of injustices is long and even if the government labels the Mapuche people as terrorists, it is the State itself which is in charge of spreading terror for centuries in the Mapuche territory, and this terror has been further intensifying militarily in recent years, with the objective of protecting investments.
The mass media control the same businesses, such as the Edwars family vii, owner of the newspaper El Mercurio amongst other media which has followed the same fascist line since its inception: “...men were not born in order to live in an idle manner as jungle animals, without benefitting mankind; and a group of savages, as savage as the pampas or the araucanos is no more than a horde of beasts, which must be urgently stopped or destroyed in the interest of civilization” El Mercurio de Valparaíso May 24th 1859.
Nowadays this very media, along with the rest of them (those which are controlled by the rich and powerful), disseminate this sense of anesthesia so that there is no questioning of the existing order rooted in consumption, apathy and hate for those who they label “criminals” who rise up against this imposition of norms. They try to hide all the damage caused by this way of life, especially now that Chile is trying to keep the Mapuche territory for megaprojects, hydroelectric, mining and thermoelectric plants, paper mills, extractive industries such as salmon farming, trawling, or forestation of Pine and Eucalyptus, which is a central sector which is controlled by the the rich families of Chile such as the Matteviii or Angeliniix family.
The stance of governments after the dictatorship has been to ignore the Mapuche voices, to repress this boiling pot of protest, boasting about their economic model based on industrial or energy projects. On the other hand, there are groups which have joined the struggle in order to defend these territorial rights and, despite some defeats such as Ralcox, these organizations continue to strengthen themselves, learn from the past and demonstrate a significant support network. For example during the recent strike the media of counter-information managed to provide coverage of the events despite the media blockade which was imposed by the official media. This shows the importance of creating our media, radio stations, written press, or even TVxi. This is possible based on the level of interest in creating such media and in such times where the fraud of the rest of the media is so evident.
The Mapuche have led many battles and now the solidarity with their demands continues to grow, just as the respective governments are diversifying their strategies in order to stop these demands from being met. The state is now preparing to carry out “Plan Araucania”xii, a strategy which we can only hope will not be the same as the horrifying “Plan Colombia”.
Hunger strikes and experiences such as those in la Chepaxiii , by Elena Varelaxiv, or the 14 anarchists who are now imprisoned in Santiagoxv, are proof that those in power intimidate across all sectors with anyone who bothers them, but solidarity is growing amongst the different oppressed sectors of society. In this regard, solidarity is the cornerstone for the reconstruction of a territory taken over by capitalism and the state. By regaining back this territory, which belongs to the oppressed mestizos and Mapuches, we will gain back our freedom which the authorities are denying us.
Quoting from an open letter sent by the MPP during the strike in Temuco: “Our lives are worth less than a house, all our lives combined are less important than a truck which emits fumes, the future of poor people is rationed by the World Bank and the IMF”… “As we have already stated, the main objective of our prison based mobilization is to contribute to the unity within the Mapuche community and their movement, but also to encourage the unity of all the Chilean poor and displaced people in their fight against the economic system and the State, guarantors of the rich, our common enemy.”… “We have spent too much time looking at ourselves from a distance, as though we were strangers or enemies whilst those in power have strengthened their domination. Unity in the fight. Unity to win. Unity to rediscover our strength”... “to foster social commitment in order to unmask these tyrants who pretend to act with humility and who, at all costs, try to convince us that their tyranny is necessary. We need to undermine the system from within so as to build, with our own hands, the future we deserve.”
We hope we can maintain this open communication between the different forms of resistance both in South America as well as the rest of the world, because the Mapuche people who are fighting are not alone. Their different vision of the world and their way of life will not be ruined by the greed of a few. We have to continue to be aware of what is happening in Wallmapu despite many questions remaining and many paths we yet need to take. What will happen with this pressure cooker situation if the authorities continue to give the go ahead to the militarization, social and environmental injustice? Is it possible that in the 21st century, the Chilean state will at one point recognize the project of Mapuche’s cultural and territorial autonomy? Once the hunger strike was over, the government gave in on the dual civil and military trials of the ATL. However, the political judges continue to apply this law, for example, against the 14 anarchists, kidnapped in Santiago.
We need to look South, to foster solidarity, to inform ourselves about how, at this very moment, a path of resistance is being forged, which is trying to force the hand of history, written by the forefathers of the same tyrants who govern Chile today. Get informed.
- i) Reclaimed Mapuche territory, which is currently part of the Argentine and Chilean regions.
- ii) More information on http://www.mapuexpress.net
- iii) Human Rights Report of the Ethic Committee against Torture 2010.
- iv) River where Concepción was founded, and which marked the division between the two nations.
- v) Lonko is the name given to an authority within the Mapuche, a “head” of the community.
- vi) Military Justice, operates in Chile against civilians under the anti-terrorist law. It also tries uniformed authorities, the judges are not even lawyers and they have their own jurisdiction. The ATL was created during the dictatorship and was only slightly modified by the government.
- vii) The Edwars Family control the media companies such as Emol, El Mercurio and the monopoly of the most read regional newspaper chains. They joined in the plot to prepare for the 1973 coup d’etat, amongst other plots...the following document is reccomended “EL Diario de Agustín”
- viii) Grupo Matte, family business of the Chilean Fiefdom, for example, today the executive of Channel 13 (where in programmes such as “contact” they have shown their criminilastion of the Mapuche protest, accusing them of being influenced by the FARC), Patricia Matte is, along with her family, one of the real estate businesses operating in the Mapuche conflict such as Hidroeléctricas Colbun, CMPC, Forestal Mininco. The fortune of this Group according to Forbes is 8.100 million dollars.
- ix) Grupo Angelini, family owners of Channel 13, as well as many fishing companies, gas companies such as Abastible, or in the oil sector such as COPEC which has a monopoly over 72% of the market in Chile. There are those who maintain the conflict in the South, such as Celco, or Bosques Arauco.
- x) In 1998 there was a struggle of the Mapuche pewenche people, aolng with civil society, against de Endesa España Ralco dam, which flooeded 3,500 hectares, including an entire Mapuche cemetery, swindling people, creating forced displacement and irreparable environmental damage. E.Frei, president at the time, signed his approval before ending his mandate.
- xi) For example, the Barrial 3 Channel of Santiago, a community channel in the Yungai neigbhourhood, Santiago. Please find on the internet.
- xii) “Plan Araucania”, the current right wing government’s strategy, supposedly involves the injection of milions of dollars in order to safeguard the economy and the capitals of the Araucania Region. In the last strike, the government imposed the following dialogue around this plan.
- xiii) Patricia Troncoso, one of the first to be imprisoned due to the conflict, a former Mapuche Political prisoner, kept up a hunger strike lasting 112 days in 2007, due to penitentiary and historic demands.
- xiv) Elena Varela, a former poltical prisoner, accused of being an accomplice in a bank robbery and for being linked to left wing groups, was imprisoned just when she was making her documentary “Newen Peñi”. This was clearly an act of political persecution and after months of imprisonment her innocence was proven.
- xv) In recent years, anarchism in Chile is being strongly criminalized, with dozens of activists regularly being put into jail, under the antiterrorist laws. More information can be found at www.hommodolars.org.
Translation by Francesca Denley