The Cold Shrill Battle Cry of Chilean State Bicentenial ‘Celebrations’

By Nina Dean* - August 5th 2010

The age old land conflict between the Mapuche Nation and Chile rages on and whilst daily, the physical health of no less than 31 Mapuche political prisoners deteriorates, as they lay starving in their

Image: Nina Dean
Photo: Archivo MIL

state imposed Chilean prison cells, modern Euro-Chilean society prepare for their bicentennial celebrations in honour of the independence of their territory from Spain, encompassing their illegal annexation of Mapuche ancestral territory.

The age old land conflict between the Mapuche Nation and Chile rages on and whilst daily, the physical health of no less than 31 Mapuche political prisoners deteriorates, as they lay starving in their state imposed Chilean prison cells, modern Euro-Chilean society prepare for their bicentennial celebrations in honour of the independence of their territory from Spain, encompassing their illegal annexation of Mapuche ancestral territory. The hunger strikers initiated their collective protest on 12th July 2010 in the absence of decades without recourse to justice under the Chilean state system and in a desperate bid to highlight the plight of their people in the face of repressive state legislation levied against them in order to end their just democratic demands for their ancestral territorial claims.

Following a recent visit from delegation of Mapuche Lonco (chiefs) to their incarcerated countrymen it was revealed that the health of the detainees is rapidly deteriorating, with symptoms of nausea, stomach cramps and dizziness indicating early signs of heart related illness.  However despite the precarious condition of the young men the Lonkos report that prison medical staff, have thus far refused to monitor or to treat them. Conversely in one such prison the guards planted food stuffs inside the cells of hunger strikers which were later photographed and distributed to local media in order to discredit the legitimacy of their protest.

Further, following a visit last week to a number of detained Mapuche activists on hunger strike, left wing Senator Navarro commented that he is shocked to find that the present Chilean government are wholly unwilling to enter into dialogue with the hunger strikers in order to come to some understanding of their situation. Senator Navarro has since attempted to request such a communication between the conflicting parties in an effort to establish negotiation though to date this has not been fruitful.

In Chile at this time there are presently 37 Mapuche political leaders imprisoned throughout the southern region of these 28 prisoners are indicted or convicted by the anti-terrorism law. In total there are 60 community members in detention or on parole for a sentence or injunctive relief, three Mapuche have also been forced to seek political refuge in safe countries.

Regardless of the validity of over thirty formerly signed treaties previously agreed between the Mapuche Nation and the Spanish Crown which were later inherited by  the Chilean and Argentinean States, Following their independence  in 1810 the two republics proceeded to covet and exploit  Mapuche ancestral territory which encompasses the entire region stretching from the Bio Bio and Colorado rivers in the North to the southern tip of South America; virtually a third of the land which Chile and Argentina today falsely claim belongs to them. In 1860 the republics made a strategic, concerted and brutal attack against the Mapuche people in the form of the Pacification of Araucania in Chile and the Campaign of the Desert in Argentina in order to unequivocally gain control over their ancestral territory and to subjugate and assimilate the Mapuche Nation. Many Mapuche were subsequently displaced to barren lands and starved to death whilst countless others were brutally murdered. This era of genocide is brandished upon the collective consciousness of the Mapuche Nation as the most ruthless betrayal by their new neighbouring nations in living memory.

This episode of enforced annexation ultimately sowed the seeds of contemporary Mapuche land rights resistance. Whilst the Mapuche Nation had successfully fought to defend their territory against colonial invasion since the Spanish invasion of the 16th century with the advent of the development of modern arms during the Pacification of Araucania the Mapuche became vulnerable to the will of their oppressors. Despite enduring this savage episode of their history the Mapuche maintained resistance and where they had lost their defence against weaponry they began to create highly adept Mapuche political  and social organisations which also served as centres of learning and unity. Only 25 years after the Pacification of Araucania Mapuche teacher Manuel Neculman and later Mapuche Chief Manuel  Aburto Panguilef rose to prominence and along with many other Mapuche leaders and activists, worked tirelessly to construct a new defence against domination and subjugation in defence of the Mapuche Nation and its territory. This unified resistance in the form of social and political organisation has continued, evolved and gained in strength through the 19th, 20th and present centuries. Today this resistance manifests in the modern Mapuche ancestral land rights movement and the current Mapuche political prisoners hunger strike. Further the Mapuche movement has developed an international legacy which will go on to assert the rights of its people in respect of and their current and future aspirations via the participation of Mapuche rights groups in  international bodies such as the United Nations and international human rights organisations.

Since the election in Jan 2010 of a new right wing government in Chile and their application of anti terrorist law to cases of petty civil disobedience by Mapuche land rights activists, its utilisation has increased twofold in Mapuche cases. The law initially introduced under the former Pinochet dictatorship as a means of repressing democratic opposition has been applied systematically over the past decade by both right and left wing administrations against Mapuche leaders, protestors, communities and their supporters. In fact in recent months under the Pinera cabinet there have been renewed measures taken to add yet stronger penalties under this law, these include the right to arrest and convict a suspect clothed in hooded apparel and to give amnesty to alleged suspects should they be willing to testify to any alleged terrorist activities of another.  Add to this the fact that under current anti terrorist legislation suspects are tried in a closed military court and convicted using the evidence of paid anonymous witnesses and can be held in jail for up to two years on remand without trial, producing a lethal cocktail of injustice and inequality resulting in a gross breach of internationally accepted human rights.

It is significant to be reminded that following the murder of the fifth young Mapuche land rights activist Jaime Mendoza Collio, in August 2009 a delegation of Mapuche chiefs representing their nation travelled to the office of the then President Michelle Bachelete. Their mission was to instigate discourse on the already volatile land conflict yet they were again turned away when the president refused  to speak with them regardless of their concerns and their willingness to engage in dialogue on the contentious issue of land rights.  It was this point blank refusal of the government to enter into any type of communication with Mapuche Nation leaders at such a time of crisis which left them with no option but to call for the active reclamation of Mapuche territory. With echoes of Rev Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement calls in the USA, using civil disobedience and not violence as their mechanism for the just reclamation of their ancestral territory. Considering  that  stipulations contained in ILO Convention 169 (adopted by Chile in 2008) and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states that nation states must consult in advance with indigenous peoples on all issues which are of concern to them, be they territorial, cultural, economic, social, political, legal. It is therefore impossible to reconcile the paradox of both the former and the current government’s lack of political will with which to interact with the Mapuche people and their leaders in compliance with this internationally recognised legislation.

This trademark stone wall response was again reiterated by a Chilean government official this week when he visited one of the prisons in which a number of Mapuche are engaged in hunger strike, however his concerns within the institution were related solely to business unrelated to the hunger strike issue, when asked by journalists why he would not speak with the Mapcuhe protesters he stated that “he had nothing to say to them’’.

However perhaps of most alarming concern in this most fragile and volatile situation was the chilling statement issued by President Pinera himself immediately prior to his election when he stated that” we will soon see the second pacification of araucania”referring to the act of attempted genocide perpetrated against the Mapuche  by the republics following  their  independence and his intention to perpetrate this inhumanity for a second and ultimate time against them in order to eradicate them. To give context to the gravity of this comment one would suggest that to call for a second Pacification of Araucania is tantamount to a call for a second holocaust in European terms.

Should a leader of a Western democracy make such a clear public statement of incitement and intent to genocide against a people the democratic world would entirely expect that he/she would be appropriately penalised via the international court of human rights for intent to commit a crime against humanity.  However Presidents Pineras public intentions appear to have bypassed mainstream global and national opinion without  either incident nor action. 

Further whilst in recent weeks the release of Cuban hunger strikers became the focus of global media attention, the Chilean government condemned the inhumanity of the Cuban government, going as far as to consider the offer of asylum to one of their group, yet conversely the government fail to recognise the human rights abuses it perpetuates against the Mapuche people allowing them to starve to death rather than admit to their wrongdoings and the injustices inherent in their undemocratic post dictatorship legislation .

The chilling spectre of the anachronistic tendencies of the current Chilean administration are cause for great concern, with its ongoing links with the old order of established  authorities maintaining subterranean sympathies with the morals and values of the lingering covert  elite of the Pinochet establishment. The fine veil of Chilean democracy under a right wing administration in particular reveals but a superficial veneer of integrity and morality whilst in the cold harsh wind of winter its true face is revealed. Only then can it be noted that the Chilean establishment have been reluctant to transit from the values of the dictatorship of the 1970’s to a just and humane modern democracy modelled after the west.

Therefore we can conclude that the robust Chilean appetite and lust for land and its vital resources which equates only to increased capitol for its ever hungry nation has remained unchanged since that of its founders two centuries before them, where in the early days of independence and territorial annexation the republic sought territory, wealth, domination and power the current states primary aims and objectives remain the same, unconscionably using any means necessary to achieve this end. For the Chilean State the bicentennial celebration celebrates not only what has gone before but perhaps more alarmingly serves as a celebration in advance of its  intended future ambitions, to once and for all steal that which belongs to the Mapuche Nation, the land upon which they live. For the Mapuche the bicentenary celebration is nothing more than shrill battle cry of a psychopathological and ruthless predator.

*Vice Secretary
Mapuche International Link



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