Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Government Gives Mixed Signals Over Details Of Alleged CAM Attacks
By Silke Steiml

Chile's conflicted Araucania Region has seen more violent events in recent days, leading national and regional officials to give conflicting assessments over the involvement of the radical Mapuche organization Coordinadora Arauco Malleco (CAM).

Mapuche activist with a banner saying "Mapuche territory reconquered".
Photo courtesy of

A Forestal Mininco truck was set on fire in Region VIII's Tirúa community in the morning hours of Saturday, while in neighboring
Lleu-Lleu, a summer house belonging to Rafael Pincheira Santander, a farmer and politician for Party for Democracy (PPD), was burned down by unknown persons on Sunday at 4 a.m.

The regional Public Prosecutor’s office received a written statement early this week, allegedly written by the CAM, saying the organization was responsible for the arson attacks. “As a consequence of our Mapuche leaders facing oppression, militarization, persecution, and imprisonment because of our successful land re-conquests, we have carried out actions of resistance towards transnational objects operating in Mapuche territory.”

The statement denied, however, allegations that the CAM has ties to Colombia's FARC guerilla and the Basque ETA group, as recently alleged by Chilean news sources.

One CAM leader, Luis Trancal, was arrested under such accusations last week in Santiago and is now awaiting trial in Temuco (ST, Aug. 7).

Still, Interior Undersecretary Patricio Rosende expressed doubts about the CAM’s involvement in the most recent attacks. “Leaving written statements of responsibility is not exactly characteristic of the organization,” he said. “Also, their leaders are all currently in jail, so to the best of our knowledge, the CAM lacks operating capacity.”

But local prosecuting attorney Francisco Ljubetic contradicted Rosende, saying the CAM could still be in business, even without their original leaders. “Ever since their formation in 1997, they have been active, no matter who got arrested.” He also mentioned it is likely that the CAM is replacing older, jailed leaders with new leaders.

In reference to the disagreement, Carolina Tohá, spokesperson for the presidential palace La Moneda, on Tuesday pointed out that the CAM is “looks to be active, with or without their original leaders.”

Furthermore, there have been new attempts this week by some Mapuche groups to occupy properties in an effort to retake ancestral land claimed as their own. In the municipality of Cunco, two properties were occupied by Mapuche activists on Sunday. The Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group and were not fully subjugated until late in the 19th century - 1883.

Araucania Sen. Alberto Espina from the National Renovation Party agreed with Tohá, but at the same time made a “call to not marginalize the Mapuche communities, because the violence existing among some of them is just one aspect . . . and to not confuse the actions of a minority with peaceful behavior found in the vast majority of the (Mapuche) communities.”

Chile's south has been affected by various uprisings in recent years. The ongoing dispute involves members of the Mapuche community, government authorities, land-owners, and multinational companies, and centers on land ownership issues as well as the demand for self-governance and autonomy on the part of the Mapuche.

Father Fernando Díaz of the Pastoral Indígena criticized the government's handling of the conflict. “The reality of the Mapuche
people is a lot more complex,” he said. “It is a history of struggling, working, and trying hard to keep going to overcome poverty, marginality, and injustice. The reality has to be contextualized, violence always has two faces.”

In related news, the International Day of the World's Indigenous People (IDWIP) was celebrated last Sunday. It was established by the United Nations to fortify international cooperation to resolve problems regarding human rights, environment, education, health and development. The IDWIP has been observed by the international community every August 9 since 1994.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, referred to the indigenous peoples and their traditions, cultural diversity and lifestyles as “valuable contribution to the collective world patrimony.”

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is currently preparing a hearing related to Chile set for August 14 and 15. A delegation of Mapuche organization leaders recently traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to attend (ST, Aug.6).

As reported by the Chilean newspaper El Austral, one member of the delegation, Aucán Huilcamán, was not allowed to leave Chile due to a missing document. His organization, the Consejo de Todas las Tierras, published a statement saying the state’s action “was illegal and confirms the politics of persecution carried out by the government.”

In 2008 Chile ratified the United Nations International Labor Organization's (OIT) 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, also known as C 169.

To date, C 169 represents the only international norm guaranteeing indigenous peoples various basic rights. It has been ratified by 20 nations, but has yet to take effect in Chile. Many countries with a high number of indigenous groups, including Australia, China, Canada, Finland, Russia and United States, have not yet committed to the convention.

“I am worried about the Mapuches' marginalized position and the connection being made to certain radical groups,” said lawyer Nancy Yáñez of the NGO Observatorio Ciudadano. “But once the convention takes effect, Chile’s government will be obligated to finally face its historical debt with respect to land ownership issues, not only regarding the country's South, but also the North and the island of Rapa Nui.”

By Silke Steiml