By Rocío Alorda
The Mapuche movement in Chile is going through a complex time. With nine detained community members who went on a hunger strike – four of whom lasted more than 60 days on strike – and clashes between Mapuche communities and police in southern Chile, Sebastián Piñera’s administration on Oct. 8 signed an executive order establishing the Indigenous Development Area, or ADI, in the town of Ercilla. Thirty-seven of the 42 communities in the area accepted the order.
The Indigenous Law of 1993 created ADIs, which are defined as “territorial areas where state agencies will focus action in favor of the harmonious development of indigenous people and their communities.” According to the government, ADIs create a space for land acquisition programs, agricultural consulting, support for entrepreneurship, and resources to improve healthcare and road infrastructure.
Pinera told reporters that ADIs fulfill the promise of generating dialogue as the only way to solve the Mapuche conflict.
“This is the path that will pay off, the path of dialogue, the path of action, not one of violence or attacks,” Piñera said. “That´s why, with the same strength, I reiterate my commitment to fight with every weapon in the rule of law against criminals and subversives that far from being positive, only cause harm and pain to the cause of the Mapuche people and the cause of our country.”
However, five communities in Ercilla, about 600 km (370 miles) south of Santiago, refused to participate in the government’s newly proposed system, including the Temucuicui Traditional Community and the Wente Winkul Mapu community. The latter is home to detainees Erick and Rodrigo Montoya, Paulino Levinao and Daniel Levipan, who went on a hunger strike in Angol Prison from Aug. 27 to Oct. 25. Levinao and Levipan were sentenced to 10 years and one day in prison for attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, and 541 days for illegally carrying a firearm in the commune of Ercilla in November 2011, while the rest face other charges.
The Mapuche detainees hoped to use the hunger strike as leverage to get their cases before the Supreme Court dismissed. They are also demanding the application of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 [concerning indigenous and tribal peoples], the complete restitution of lands that are currently occupied by logging companies and large landowners, and the demilitarization of the communities, according to statements they made from behind bars.
After being pressured with the hunger strike for more than two months, the Supreme Court dismissed the case against Levinao for the attempted murder of Iván Bezmalinovic, the general of Carabineros, Chile’s national police force. It ordered a retrial on the grounds of insufficient evidence in the ruling by Angol Prison’s criminal court, but upheld the 541 days in detention for possession of firearms. Levipan sentence was reduced to three years’ probation on the lesser charge of assaulting an on duty police officer. The court ordered his release after notification of the judgment to the court of first instance at Angol.
The five community members who carried out a hunger strike at Temuco prison stopped several days before those at Angol, once the head of the National Institute of Human Rights Lorena Friés, mediated an agreement with the Ministry of Justice and the Gendarmerie to transfer the prisoners to Angol, where the rest of the Mapuche political prisoners are detained.
“There are four Mapuche brothers in the Angol jail [45 km, or 28 miles, from Ercilla], where two of them were unjustly sentenced by witnesses paid off by the [prosecutor’s office, known as the Ministerio Publico], and two more who are awaiting a trial in which, by using protected witnesses, they want to convict out people. It doesn’t behoove the government to talk about this issue,” said Jorge Huenchullán, werkén, or spokesman, for the Temucuicui community.
He added that the ADIs are “part of the administration’s strategy to cover up the real conflict, which is the complete recovery of the lands demanded by the communities, and to cover up a series of violent abuses and deny the protests that we are staging here in Ercilla´s Mapuche communities. We Mapuche are not looking for handouts for our people, so we reject the ADI. It does not apply to us.”
History of the conflict
The enactment in 1974 by the military dictatorship [1973-90] of Decree 711 supporting the logging industry triggered a conflict between the state and the Mapuche people because it ended the concept of community property for the indigenous population. Successive governments then used a 1984 anti-terrorism law as grounds to respond to Mapuche resistance.
In 1997, in a historic moment in which the Mapuche community found itself weakened, unable to move forward in recuperating their lands, a group of communities and lonkos (traditional officials) formed the Coordinadora de Comunidades en Conflicto Arauco, Malleco y Cautín, which then became the Coordinadora Arauco Malleco, or CAM.
“In that sense, CAM takes a step forward in defining a new way of doing politics that has to do with the passage from institutional action to direct action of sabotage as a political weapon. It makes the leap in the sense that one should not expect anything from a State that has sentenced us to 100 years of suppression and discrimination, (and) moves towards the creation of its own autonomous political project,” said CAM’s werkén, who maintained anonymity for safety reasons.
“The land and autonomy become the cornerstones of CAM,” the werkén said. “These two axes come together in the practice of exercising territorial control, restoring the lands and working them, generating cultural, political, and economic practices in those territories as Mapuches. Autonomy is an order and a disciplined way of working. And as a political project it has to do with how the Mapuche people develop themselves on the peripheries of the state.”
Another period in the Mapuche movement began in 2002, one that historian Fernando Pairican referred to as between the “pressure and shadow.” It was when Mapuche community members were detained.
“Until that year, no political prisoners had been sentenced nor had the antiterrorism law been applied to them. That’s how a new era started – one which hasn’t stopped – where by the political demands of the Mapuche, [the community members] were taken prisoners and that generated the obvious response, resistance from behind bars through a hunger strike,” he explained. “The border that historically separated Chile from the Mapuche areas south of Bío-Bío River has other protocols and justice is applied differently, there is a racist application of the law in Araucanía, where inhabitants aren’t human beings, they are Indians. It’s an extension of the 19th century.”
In July 2010, the conflict between Piñera’s administration and the Mapuche people soured following a hunger strike by four Mapuche detainees who were also part of CAM, including its leader Héctor Llaitul, in protest of how the antiterrorism law was being applied in their cases. There was a commonality in the demands by the different Mapuche communities – the need to recover ancestral lands that had been usurped by the state and multinational companies.
“What today most haunts the Mapuche people is the loss of sacred lands, and that includes rivers and cemeteries. With hydroelectric and mining projects, the territories south of Valdivia are in danger, toward the foothills and the coast of Osorno, two entities that give strength to the communities, the Mapuche essence. These areas will be flooded by hydroelectric plants,” lamented the young machi, or shaman, Millaray Huichalaf, of the Roble Carimallin sector.
Fight for territory
Mapuche communities distrust the government´s proposals. They believe they hide the underlying conflict: the struggle for territory.
“Clearly policies continue to bring the conflict to another level and you don´t see the background of why the Mapuches are in conflict today, which is to recover the land. [The government] wants to institutionalize the conflict and negotiate, but the land cannot be negotiated because the earth is a mother, (and) one does not sell a mother,” Huichalaf said.
According to Pairican, “what the government is doing is forming a triad that employs the economic model [liberalism], the political system, and autonomy. It’s looking at countries like Canada and the United States, where neoliberal indigenous autonomy has produced results without affecting capital. Those are experiences where the model and autonomy are compatible, through multiculturalism, something that [former President Michelle] Bachelet [2006-2010] proposed during her administration. Let’s have autonomy, but a neoliberal one.”
However, the model of neoliberal autonomy is rejected by indigenous leaders, since the Mapuche political project is incompatible with capitalism.
“We are not only facing a political battle, but also an ancestral one, because the Mapuche community is fundamentally anti-capitalist,” Huichalaf said. “That’s why any manner of organization is dangerous to this system. Today, we are rising up with clear conviction, with a political, social, and spiritual foundation, as an entire community.”