Chief Juana Calfunao brave Mapuche defender of soil, spirit and self determination

By Nina Dean - 9th October 2007

Echoes of hunger strike protest across the globe

Chief Juana Calfunao embodies the struggle of the Mapuche Nation, enduring every act of brutal political repression that has been imposed by the Chilean authorities, with characteristic integrity and unfaltering belief. Her physical body has become a symbol of both the strengths and inflicted weaknesses of her people and she bears the scars of wounds imposed by those who would do so without remorse and for personal gain.

The historic Mapuche struggle for ancestral land rights, justice, freedom and self determination against the repressive Chilean State is mirrored in the situation of Chief Calfunao who at this precise moment faces the reality of the end of her own life, on this the 64th day of her hunger strike protest.

In August 7 th 2007 Chief Calfunao and her sister Luisa committed to hunger strike in an attempt to demand the recognition of all Mapuche political prisoners by the Chilean State, to guarantee the physical and psychological safety of Mapuche political prisoners, to cease the practice of maltreatment of Mapuche political prisoners by prison officers, to provide adequate medical attention to sick prisoners in particular Special envoy (Werken) Antonio Cadin, to reinstate access to family visitation rights and for recognition of Mapuche ancestral authorities. Chief Calfunao remains on hunger strike to the present day, however recent medical reports reveal that on 2 nd Oct she suffered heart failure as a result of severe malnutrition, she now remains in a critical condition and doctors fear for her life.

As a result of the defence of her family and community's ancestral land against local landowners and both corporate and state economic interests, successive Chilean governments whether democratic or dictatorial have systematically targeted Chief Calfunao and generations of the entire Calfunao family. They have achieved this through the use repressive legislation and anti-terrorist law by means of false arrest and imprisonment, interrogation, police brutality, torture, and intermittent police raids where violent assaults and intimidation have become the norm.

On May 12 th 2000 Chief Calfunao was arrested and beaten by Temuco police causing her to miscarry her unborn child, no action was taken against the perpetrators; On June 26 TH 2004 in a calculated bid to remove the chief and her family from their traditional ancestral land, one of three suspected arson attacks at Chief Calfunao's home led to the death of her uncle Chief Basilio Coñoenao.

In October 2005 in order to discredit her reputation the Chilean government diplomatic corps launched a public and international attack on the Chief using its ministry for Foreign Affairs embassies' to circulate derogatory and untrue information about her.

Chief Calfunao and her sister Luisa were brutally assaulted along with other members of her community by the Chilean police whilst protesting against the broadening of a road running through the community land, during a police raid on the community. She and her sister were publicly beaten and arrested following a second police raid on the following day and despite a court ruling by Judge Luz Monica Madariaga that the police action had been illegal on 15 th November 2006 Chief Calfunao and Luisa were detained under indefinite pre trial detention, where they remain to the present day.

As an ancestral leader of the Mapuche, Chief Calfunao has dedicated her life in the commitment of the defence of her people and their land. It is at this fragile moment that the return of their gratitude, love and support are most needed. Like the Mapuche earth mother who sustains the Mapuche and all humanity, for whom she sacrifices her life in protection, she herself is now in need of that same strength and protection.

In every action Chief Calfunao's courage, determination and faith were directed with unfaltering conviction shining like a light to the Mapuche in the darkness of their struggle. We hope that where Chief Calfunao is no longer able to speak, her people will speak for her, where she is no longer able to act, her people will act for her, where she is without strength her people will lift up her spirit as a symbol of her enduring light and courage and hold foremost in their mind the principles of freedom, Justice and self determination which guide the Mapuche cause. May the life of Chief Calfunao be held aloft by those she has loved, those who cherish her.

To date the Chilean State response to the Calfunao/Cadin family defence of their ancestral territory has been the detention of Chief Calfunao; her husband Antonio Cadin; sister Luisa Calfunao; son's Jorge and Wailkilaf Cadin Calfunao; mother Mercedes Calfunao Paillalef and daughter Carolina Maciel, the later two being held on house arrest.

Chief Calfunao and her family are due to appear for sentencing in an open tribunal in a Temuco court on 22 nd Oct where they have requested the presence of independent observers from international human rights organisations; They are preparing to expect a sentence of between 10 and 17 years.

Marrichiweu !

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