Murder of Young Mapuche Land Rights Defender

Heralds New Wave of Mapuche Resistance

By Nina Dean* - 18th August 2009

Following the recent murder at the hands of Chilean military policeman Miguel Jara, of a 24 year old Mapuche man on 12th August 2009 during a Mapuche ancestral land rights protest, the Mapuche Nation remain at extreme risk of further acts of repressive state violence; Which seeks to extinguish the legitimate democratic voice of the Mapuche people their civil and political rights.

Chilean police left the victim for dead, according to medical evidence after shooting him in the back, by failing to attempt resuscitation nor to call emergency services for a prolonged period after the shooting.  Although police statements made at the time of the killing state that they acted in self defence believing the youths to be armed. An eye witness later stated that the young men were armed only with sticks and say that the police went on to prevent people from removing the body.

Photo: Funeral of Jaime Mendoza Collio

Prior to the killing, on July 7th 2009 a group of 100 Mapuche Nation chiefs, authorities and activists travelled to Santiago, after their attempted meeting with Nora Barrientos the governor of the Araucanía region, was denied.  They went on to request a meeting with a senior government official in order to discuss the urgent concerns of the Mapuche regarding the current tensions resulting from historic land and human rights breaches. However the government’s refusal to receive them nor to enter into debate further alienated the Mapuche and led to an intensified sense of injustice and exclusion from the democratic process.

At the same time, a paramilitary group in Araucanía known as "Hernán Trizano Commando" announced on a local radio station that it intended to become active again, and threatened Mapuche leaders some of which were named, with dynamite attacks beginning on 3rd Aug as a means of ending their ancestral land rights campaign.

The tragic death of Jaime Facundo Mendoza Collio represents the sixth young Mapuche man to be killed by Chilean State police in similar circumstances in six years, whilst exercising their democratic right to protest over the illicit appropriation of their ancestral land by local landowners and the Chilean state.  Following his death tensions remain high and have resulted in widespread demonstrations held by both Mapuche and non-Mapuche organisations nationally and internationally which continue to take place. The funeral of Mendoza Collio took place on Sunday 16th Aug when approximately 3,000 people turned out to pay their respects.  

According to the press release of 13th Aug 2009 by ‘the Mapuche and solidarity organisations of Europe and North America’, on 3rd January 2008 police murdered 23-year-old Matías Catrileo.   In the same year, on 31st March 2008, Johnny Cariqueo, aged 23, died as a result of being tortured.   On 3rd May 2007 the Chilean police murdered forestry worker Rodrigo Cisternas while he was participating in protests by workers at the forestry company Celulosa Arauco.   In August 2006 Juan Collihuín Catril, aged 71, was murdered and on 3rd November 2003 Alex Lemun, aged 17, was also murdered. Added to this is the disappearance in 2005 of a 16 year old Mapuche boy, José Huenante who disappeared whilst held in detention by Chilean police in Puerto Montt in the south of Chile.

President Bachelet has been notified of these facts by the Ethical Commission against Torture, whose report has been discussed by the Working Group on Collective Rights, State Policies and Mapuche People in Chile, before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2009.

President Bachelet commented on Thursday that the activists are harming their own cause. "Nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies the violence in La Araucania. They must understand that the only path to a solution to the legitimate historical demands of the Mapuche people is dialogue; we will continue working so that all of the commitments that we adopted in our new policy towards indigenous people are lived up to. We hope the investigation will clarify what happened. But I want to reiterate that nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies the violence."

Meanwhile tensions remain high on the international stage, whilst during a session at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last week there were angry and bitter clashes between a Mapuche delegation and the Chilean government delegation, the former branding the government ‘assassins’ in reference to the death of their compatriot.

The application of Chilean anti-terrorist law (No.18.314.) originally instituted under the former Pinochet dictatorship currently used solely against Mapuche communities and their leaders continue to the present day.  According to Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, “It doubles the normal sentences for some offenses, makes pre-trial release more difficult, enables the prosecution to withhold evidence from the defence for up to six months, and allows defendants to be convicted on testimony given by anonymous witnesses. These witnesses appear in court behind screens so that the defendants and the public cannot see them.”

According to Human Rights Watch an international human rights organisation, under Chile's Constitution, those convicted of terrorism are  also barred for fifteen years from holding public office, occupying teaching posts, exercising trade union or business responsibilities, or practicing journalism. Moreover, they are not eligible for a presidential pardon. Further Human Rights Watch comment that Mapuche individuals accused of violence against the police are tried in military courts in proceedings that do not meet basic requirements of independence and impartiality. It is little wonder, then, that many Mapuche feel that Chile's progressive new criminal justice system, in force since 2000 in the region most affected by the conflicts, bestows its benefits on everyone but them.

There are presently 37 Mapuche political prisoners including Mapuche leaders detained in Chilean prisons as a result of the illicit application of state anti - terrorist law against peaceful democratic protesters. These prisoners are frequently incarcerated in prisons at a remote geographical distance from their families and communities in order to isolate them from support. Often the names of those sentenced to detention appear in family groups suggesting that entire families are imprisoned simultaneously.  Whilst many Mapuches disappear into obscurity having just cause to have little or no faith that they will be offered equality nor justice under Chilean law but preferring not to appear in court to attend their trials in fear of hefty and unjust sentences and further episodes of torture and inhumane treatment.

Whilst Miguel Jara remains in custody awaiting an official investigation into the shooting, to date there have been no prosecutions against any police officers involved in crimes perpetrated against the Mapuche.

(*) Assistant General Secretary
Mapuche International Link


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