16 2005

Temuko de Chile
Chile's Terror Duplicity
by Gretchen Gordon

Temuco, Chile - Sixteen indigenous Mapuche activists and supporters in June found themselves on trial in Chile facing controversial charges of "illicit terrorist association" based on their involvement in the struggle for repossession of Mapuche territorial lands.

The defendants had been found not guilty of the same charges in November of last year.

"For us, this is the second trial we're going to have for the same crime," says Marcelo Quintrileo, one of the 16 Mapuche on trial. He is 27 years old and faces a minimum 5-year jail sentence if found guilty. "The only argument the prosecutors have put forth is that we're a danger to society, that we're a terrorist organization. So the defense says, 'But where is the proof?' Their response is that all of it is secret. This is how they apply the Anti-Terrorism Law."

The trial is the latest example of the Chilean government's use of a Pinochet-era Anti-Terrorism Law to prosecute Mapuche, part of what human rights groups denounce as a pattern of discrimination, abuse and violation of due process. According to an October 2004 report by Human Rights Watch and the Chilean organization, Indigenous Peoples' Rights Watch, the unjustified use of terrorism laws has allowed the Chilean government to keep Mapuche leaders in pretrial detention for months, utilize secret investigations and "faceless" witnesses, and subject defendants to double jeopardy.

Currently, almost a dozen Mapuche and one Chilean supporter are serving prison sentences for terrorism convictions, and 14 more accused remain in hiding, including 10 of the 16 facing trial in June.

The "illicit association" charge is based on the defendants' involvement in the Arauco-Malleco Association (CAM), a Mapuche rights organization named for two provinces engaged in efforts to recover lands from forestry companies and large landowners.

In the new trial, the government prosecutor is once again contending that the CAM is a terrorist organization, responsible for planning illegal, violent acts and generating fear in the general population.

In April of this year, Chile's Supreme Court of Justice overruled a sentence from the Criminal Court of Temuco, which had absolved the 16 Mapuche of this same charge of 'illicit association' based on lack of credible evidence. The criminal court had characterized testimony by several "faceless" prosecution witnesses as "neither true nor credible," stating that the prosecutor's witnesses "lack consistency and are vague and imprecise."

The April overruling of the not-guilty verdict came at the behest of Augustin Figueroa, a large landholder, former Minister of Agriculture under President Patricio Aylwin, and current member of the Constitutional Court.

"It surprised me, not because I have confidence in justice," says Quintrileo, "but because what the judges had said was so well argued, that legally it seemed almost impossible that they would annul it, impossible that
Figueroa could come back and exert pressure."

The Root Conflict

The Mapuche struggle for land and autonomy stretches back to the Spanish conquistadors, but the conflict with forestry companies has its roots in the early years of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. In the early 1970s, the Chilean government imposed a corporate-friendly economic model with forestry plantations as the priority engine of growth. In a counter-agricultural reform, the government auctioned off large tracks of land that historically belonged to the Mapuche. Since then, a powerful program of government subsidies has resulted in vast expansion of plantations onto Mapuche land.

Chile currently has 6.2 million acres of monoculture tree plantations, approximately 3.7 million acres of which are on historically Mapuche land. Over 60 percent of this forestry activity is controlled by the Matte and Angelini families, under the corporate banners of CMPC (Mininco), and Arauco.

For Mapuche communities, the fight against the forestry companies is not just a matter of land, but of environmental and socio-economic well-being. The plantation-model of cultivation drains water supplies, exhausts soil nutrients and utilizes aerially sprayed pesticides.

"There are many Mapuche communities who are virtually surrounded by pine plantations - communities who don't have water, who don't have medicinal plants, who don't have fertile land," says Alfredo Seguel, a working member of the Mapuche Coordinating Group of Organizations and Territorial Identities.
"The plantations have produced a profound change in the way of life for these communities."

Criminalizing Mapuche

Human rights advocates argue that the crimes for which the Mapuche have been charged, most involving property damage and none involving a direct threat to life, aren't consistent with international definitions of terrorist actions.
"Chile's use of the anti-terrorism law for crimes committed by Mapuche in the context of land conflicts, which do not approach this threshold of seriousness, is not only inappropriate but also reinforces existing prejudices against the Mapuche people," finds the Human Rights Watch report.

The Chilean government, however, maintains that the anti-terrorism law is applied only in cases of "extreme gravity." Subsecretary of Planning, and Coordinator of Indigenous Programs and Policies, Jaime Andrade, says that the Anti-Terrorism Law has only been used in relationship to "acts of violence in which it unfortunately was not possible to use other instruments."

In Chile, a country that meticulously guards its recently regained outward image of democracy and development, the application of a terrorist label to the Mapuche movement is poignant. Chile's "DINA, CNE, Augusto Pinochet, Manuel Contreras remain [free], though they're proven terrorists," says Quintrileo, referring to the leading forces of repression during the Pinochet dictatorship.
"In no other part of the world is the impunity as great as what they have; nonetheless, against the Mapuche, they accuse us of being terrorists."

In March 2004, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Rights, presented a report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in which he condemned the use of the Anti-Terrorism Law in the Mapuche land conflict. The report recommends that the Chilean government grant a general amnesty to those prosecuted for land reclamations under anti-terrorism laws, and "take the necessary measures to end the criminalization of the legitimate activities of protest or social demands" of the Mapuche people.

"Unfortunately, one year after the report, you can't see many advances in the fulfillment of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur," says Jose Aylwin, director of Temuco-based Indigenous Peoples' Rights Watch. "Given the lack of proof demonstrating that the accused are part of an association that exhibits illicit or terrorist characteristics, the government has here a great opportunity to demonstrate, through dropping this case, its willingness not to criminalize the demands of the Mapuche people as the Special Relateur Stavenhagen urged in his report. We hope that it will."

But for Quintrileo and many other Mapuche, any hope for the Chilean justice system is long since gone.

In June, Quintrileo did not appear in court. He is now in hiding along with nine other accused Mapuche and an order has been issued for his arrest. In a communiqué, he and Oscar Higueras, a 22-year-old also in hiding, explained their decision not to appear before the court.

"We are not participating in this judicial circus, we will not validate the dirty game of the prosecutors or their public minister," they said. "The justice in this country is for the rich and powerful. We aren't fooled by that
false promise of democracy."

- Gretchen Gordon