Patriot Act or Act of Pacification?

By Nina Dean* - 31st July 2010

There are currently 30 Mapuche political prisoners on hunger strike under Chilean State detention, in protest at their unjust incarceration under the State Patriot Act using anti terrorist law No.18.314, the militarisation of Mapuche ancestral lands and the continued denial of their just democratic right to defend their ancestral territory.

Today marks the day 20th of the collective Mapuche hunger strike which commenced on 12th July, includes Mapuche political prisoners held in state prisons throughout Chile, incorporating those detained in Angol, Concepcion, Temuco, Valdivia and Lebu. Countless Mapuche political prisoners also claim to have been the victims of torture during interrogation and detention, evidenced by photographs of their injuries and testimonies from international human rights organisations.

The Mapuche are the indigenous people who traditionally reside in the areas today known as Chile and Argentina, from the Bio Bio and Colorado Rivers in the north to the southern tip of South America. Their nation have maintained a traditional way of life in this region, in accordance with their culture and spiritual belief for thousands of years to date; however following the Spanish invasion in 1541 the Mapuche were forced to defend their land and liberty from extermination and colonial domination. Following the independence of the Chilean and Argentinean states in 1810 in the 1860's and in breach of over 30 formerly signed treaties including the Treaty of Killen, the two states initiated a brutal and premeditated assault upon the Mapuche Nation known as the Pacification of Araucania in Chile and the Campaign of the Desert in Argentina;  The final consequence of this attempt to annex Mapuche ancestral territory, incorporating a policy of assimilation and ethnic genocide resulted in the death of thousands of Mapuche and the displacement of many more to cities and barren and impoverished lands. It was an episode indelibly branded upon the memory of the Mapuche Nation consciousness akin to that of the infamous `trail of tears' referred to by the North American Indian Nations.

Thus the Mapuche claim nothing more, than that which is granted by  birthright as a distinct indigenous culture, a right enshrined under international law, to live freely and in peace upon their traditional ancestral land and to perpetuate their culture, identity and tradition in accordance with their cultural and spiritual values. The Mapuche cosmic (spiritual) vision is inextricably linked to their relationship with the land upon which they live. Without the freedom to commune with their ancestral land as a means of both physical, mental and spiritual sustenance the Mapuche culture and identity is disenfranchised. However as Mapuche spiritual values are characterised by traditional means of sustainable development they naturally conflict with those of mainstream Chilean society. Further their respective value systems are in polar opposition to the Chilean long term objectives for capitalist state expansion in tandem with the agendas of national and multi- national mineral extraction, forestry and energy corporations and those of local landowners of European descent.

In Chile during at this time there are 37 Mapuche political leaders are in prison in various prisons in southern Chile. Of these 28 prisoners are indicted or convicted by the anti-terrorism law. In total there are 60 community members who are in prison or on parole for a sentence or injunctive relief. Three Mapuche have had to seek political refuge in one in Argentina two in Switzerland and a further five Mapuche have died as a result of shooting and torture by the Chilean police.

For over a decade, successive Chilean governments have applied anti terrorist law, initially introduced as a means of repressive control of citizens democratic rights under the former Pinochet dictatorship, to Mapuche land rights defenders, Mapuche communities, leaders and their supporters in an attempt to sabotage the Mapuche ancestral land rights movement and to silence their just democratic demands for the return of their ancestral territory. Prisoners convicted under the anti terrorist law can expect to face trial within military courts using the evidence of unidentified `faceless' witnesses and if convicted can expect their sentence to be doubled that of a standard penalty.  According to Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation it also `'makes pre-trial release more difficult and enables the prosecution to withhold evidence from the defence for up to six months.''

The international community have widely condemned the Chilean government including the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Raporteur for indigenous peoples, numerous nation states and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and World Organisation Against Torture. However the Chilean government remain belligerent in the face of the widespread condemnation of their undemocratic and immoral practices whilst simultaneously breaching international legislation and conventions such as ILO Convention 169 (adopted by Chile in 2008) and the Universal declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples among many others. During the UNHRC 12th session in Sept 2009 the Chilean government came under close scrutiny by the international fraternity during the UN universal periodic review, where they were unanimously criticised by non-governmental organisations, nation states and human rights groups for the use of anti terrorist law against peaceful democratic activists and for their lack of due legal process. During the aforementioned session wife of former French president Mitterrand, Danielle Mitterrand unreservedly condemned the unjust application of this law against Mapuche land rights defenders and their supporters which she professed to have witnessed at first hand.

With the advent of the recent election in 2010 of a new right wing administration under the leadership of President Pinera the Mapuche had braced themselves for intensified state violence and repression which has evidently been rapidly enacted against them. During the past year the numbers of those detained under anti terrorist law has doubled that under the previous administration. On July 8th 2010 in one of five amendments to the Terrorism Act the Interior Ministry announced that new measures will `'toughen penalties for serious crimes, provide guarantees for those who work together to thwart violence". Claiming that "the project, will deliver new tools to disrupt `terrorist groups'''. They further, state that "if a subversive who was to participate in a crime is willing to repent by giving information essential he/she will not face criminal justice". In summary any defendant charged with so called `terrorist crimes' will be offered the opportunity to give information on the terrorist activities of another and in doing so will be given amnesty for his offence.

President Piñera referred to the tactics he intends to implement in a media statement issued earlier this year when he publicly announced that "We will soon see the second Pacification of Araucania'' referring to the original Chilean assault upon the Mapuche Nation in 1865-1883 when the newly formed republic enacted a brutal policy of genocide and assimilation against the Mapuche Nation in an attempt to finally exterminate them in order to claim their land and the valuable natural resources that lay within their boundaries.  During this infamous and historic attack thousands of Mapuche died either through state enforced starvation or were killed by the Chilean army.

With the proposed new amendments to the Patriot Act the present government seeks through the instilment of fear to `divide and rule' in the hope of turning one Mapuche against another.  Through the enforced  loss of liberty the government is confident that the Mapuche will abandon their quest for the return of their ancestral lands in exchange for peace and an end to the bullying and violent state recriminations they would suffer should they refuse to comply.  However the Mapuche are no strangers to struggle against an external  tyrant evidenced  by hundreds of years of fierce resistance to domination and assimilation to date; therefore the government may be forced to rethink their attempt to control through illicit brute force in the long term.

The victimisation of Mapuche leaders and their families in particular is a characteristic of the Chilean state strategy to sabotage the Mapuche land rights movement. The Calfunao family of the Juan Paillalef community, Cunco and the Ancalaf Llaupe family of ColliPulli are but two  examples of State induced victimisation. The leader of the Juan Paillalef Community Lonko (chief) Juana Calfunao has remained in detention in Temuco women's penitentiary for the past 4 years on a petty civil disobedience charge whilst her son Waikilaf Calfunao is currently detained on remand under anti terrorist law in Angol prison. The remainder of her family have respectively endured significant periods of detention and torture and in fact in 2006 the entire Calfunao family were simultaneously held in detention. Lonko Calfunao's youngest daughter Relmutray presently resides in Switzerland, where she sought political asylum for her own personal safety.  Whilst Victor Ancalaf Llaupe former Mapuche political prisoner was originally convicted under anti terrorist law in 2002 and sentenced to 10 years and 1 day, later reduced on appeal to 5 years and one day for a crime which he did not commit. Mapuche Werken (special envoy) Ancalaf and his family remain under daily surveillance by Chilean police despite serving the full extent of his sentence; he has since been issued with a publicly announced death threat by a right wing paramilitary commander Hernan Trizano.

Another trademark of the management of Mapuche political resistance in particular during periods of hunger strikes has been the implementation of a national media blackout, in this way the mainstream Chilean establishment hopes to prevent the external and internal observation of the human rights abuse inherent in current State policies. Further during the current episode of Mapuche hunger strikes the government have deplorably moved a step further by planting food in the cells of hunger strikers which was photographed and distributed to the local and national media in an attempt to discredit and undermine the protest.

World acclaimed humanitarian Albert Einstein asserted that in the face of a malevolent tyrant, it is not the tyrant of whom we should be afraid but the silence of the witness, as it is this by- stander apathy which allows for the atrocity to take place. In the face of their historic violent oppression and attempted subjugation the Mapuche Nation can be in no doubt of the identity and intentions of their oppressor and without a witness they face this adversity alone, therefore it is the solemn duty of the international fraternity to stand in solidarity against such injustice and to bring a swift and resolute end to the state oppression under which the Mapuche suffer daily and which threatens their very existence as a unique and  indigenous nation.

*Vice Secretary
Mapuche International Link



Back to top