Sunday, November 25, 2007

Solidarity with Mapuche political prisoners in Chile


Among the major areas of interest on this blog are the Quebec national movement, the developing national and social revolution in Latin America, and struggles by indigenous peoples. It is appropriate, therefore, that our first posting is centred on an appeal by prominent Québécois indigenous and sovereigntist leaders in defence of a Latin American indigenous people, the Mapuche of Chile.

The Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous people, are currently involved in an important struggle against government and private industrial projects that rob them of their ancestral lands, threatening their culture and their very existence as a people. Dozens of their leaders are now jailed on charge of “terrorism” as a result of protests in defence of their lands. Some have been on a hunger strike since October 10.

Earlier this year, Mapuche leaders met with Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, to present her with their “Proposals by Mapuche Territorial Organizations to the State of Chile”, a 51-page document that sets out their demands for self-determination, recovery of lands, economic development, education, health, lawmaking and justice.

A report by Daniela Estrada on the IPS press service reported:

One of the main aspirations of the Mapuche people is “self-determination, expressed in some form of territorial or political autonomy, or according to any other formula.”

Pending a decision on the best way to implement self-determination, they propose the recognition of a national Mapuche parliament able to take binding decisions, modification of the present electoral law so that members of this indigenous people can win seats in the Chilean Congress, and elections by popular vote for regional authorities (mayors and governors).

They are also demanding the “restitution of usurped land” by means of expropriation, and the “control, possession and use” of the natural resources in “Mapuche territory,” defined as the Araucanía region and adjacent districts (comunas) in the Los Lagos and Bío-Bío regions, between 600 and 800 kilometres south of Santiago.

The Mapuche people also want stimulation of their economy, by means of local development plans in their territory -- under the leadership of their own organisations û, conservation of native flora and fauna, and research and development of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar energy.

In order for income distribution to be more equitable, they are proposing that the state pay them compensation for the investment projects that have had a negative impact on their way of life, and argue that they should receive tax exemption for access to technology. They want a bank, to be managed by themselves, and financed with taxes on large companies located in what they consider to be Mapuche territory.

They are also requesting tax exemption for Mapuche producers, and for native peoples to be protected in any free trade treaties signed by Chile.

In regard to education, they are demanding an autonomous institutional structure for education, in charge of defining educational policies. They consider it essential that their language be officially recognised, that “wise Mapuche elders” be incorporated into educational centres, and programmes to promote postgraduate study among Mapuche professionals be created.

Another request is that their health system, based on a balance between the person, nature and the supernatural, should be recognised, protected and respected, although they do not reject allopathic (conventional Western) medicine. They state that the recovery of native forests, the source of a great many medicinal plants, is vital for the development of their health system.

The same is true of their justice system, which has territorial peculiarities.

They urge the authorities to approve and ratify all international treaties for the protection of indigenous peoples, not to apply anti-terrorism laws in Mapuche conflicts, and to free what they call Mapuche political prisoners.


To date, the Mapuche have received no response from President Bachelet’s “Socialist” government other than further jailings of their leaders.

On November 21, some prominent Québécois politicians and indigenous leaders published in the Montréal daily Le Devoir the following appeal in solidarity with the Mapuche people and their political prisoners, including the hunger strikers. My translation. – Richard Fidler

In solidarity with Mapuche political prisoners

Le Devoir, Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When touring Europe and North America, as she often does, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet habitually presents her country as the foremost democracy in Latin America. In Geneva last June, she reminded a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council of her detention in the clandestine prison of Villa Grimaldi during the Pinochet dictatorship; its members were clearly moved by her speech.

However, locked up in the prisons of Michelle Bachelet’s democratic Chile are dozens of Mapuche indigenous leaders whom the former Judge Juan Guzmán — the prosecutor whose proceedings led to Pinochet’s arrest — himself characterizes as “political prisoners”. That a judicial authority of this stature is of this view simply confirms what we have observed since Michelle Bachelet’s investiture: nothing is being done to stop the dangerous spiral of increasing resort to military, police and judicial violence in the treatment of the aboriginal question in Chile.


These Mapuche men and women have been sentenced as “terrorists” to ten years in prison and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were alleged to have set fire to several dozen hectares of land, once part of the vast territory from which their ancestors were driven, the remainder of which General Pinochet had distributed to his close friends in the military junta. While big landowners and forest operators prospered, some making it into the notorious Forbes list of major world fortunes, the Mapuches were confined by force within tiny reserves far too cramped for them to eke out a subsistence.

The special legislation intended today to neutralize these dangerous “Mapuche terrorists” was enacted and used by the Pinochet regime to repress opposition to the junta. Even today, they are the most terrible weapons in the Chilean legal arsenal. Paradoxically, these dictatorial laws were amended by the post-dictatorship governments to strengthen their enforcement, for example by incorporating such common offences as “arson or terrorist threats”, which were already in the country’s Criminal Code.

In its March 2007 report on Chile, the UN’s Human Rights Committee emphasized its concern about the charges of terrorism laid against some Mapuches “in connection with protests or demands for protection of their land rights”.

It noted as well that the application of these laws limits the guarantees of a regular procedure in matters involving the Mapuche; for example, the use of “faceless” witnesses testifying anonymously behind screens and speaking through voice-distorting microphones. These practices, it said, are in fundamental contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, both ratified by Chile.

On two occasions, the Supreme Court of Chile has intervened to overturn judgments in which the Mapuches had been acquitted at trial. Seeing their procedural guarantees violated in this way, several dozen Mapuches charged with “unlawful terrorist association” decided not to appear in court and have been forced to go underground.


Notwithstanding her speeches about the return to democracy, Michelle Bachelet struggles to hide the violence of the repression against the Mapuches from the international community. This violence has become systematic during her term of office and strangely resembles the climate that reigned during the black years of the dictatorship. Many international human rights organizations (among them Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights) have recently denounced the disproportionate police actions in the Mapuche communities: helicopters, armoured vehicles, hundreds of “special forces” officers conducting raids in traditional earth and wood dwellings while armed with tear gas canisters and weapons of war. Children wounded by bullets, elderly persons beaten up, men and women assaulted and beaten amidst racist insults, dwellings destroyed and property confiscated; such actions are commonplace. Nothing stops the forces of “law and order” in their obsessive search for Mapuche underground “activists”.

Concerned about her image abroad and subject to the growing pressure of the demonstrations in her country, the President undertook last year to stop invoking the “anti-terrorist” laws in trials linked to land claims when ordinary offences are involved.

But in a highly contradictory way, Bachelet’s government continues to engage in an increasingly criminalization of Mapuche social claims by the daily use of the law enforcement authority to repress them on the ground. The many incidents of police wrong-doing against the Mapuche, denounced by human rights organizations, remain unpunished by the government.

Similarly, although her government supported the recent UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she proposes a vague constitutional recognition process for the aboriginal peoples of Chile that is well below the international standards on such matters.

Hunger strike

To assert the rights that Chile refuses to their people, Patricia Troncoso Robles, José Huenchunao Mariñan, Jaime Marileo Saravia, Héctor Llaitul Carillanca and Juan Millalén Milla, now jailed at Angol, have had no recourse but to stop feeding themselves since October 10. On October 15 they were joined in this hunger strike by Ivan Llanquileo, a leader of the Millahual community of Contulmo, who is incarcerated in the Concepción prison, and by Waikilaf Cadin in the Santiago high security prison.

They are seeking the unconditional release of all the Mapuche political prisoners, an end to the repression, and the demilitarization of Mapuche communities fighting for their political and territorial rights.

Amnesty International and the World Organization Against Torture have expressed their concern about the state of health and the effects on physical and psychological integrity of the Mapuche hunger strikers. Both organizations cite the “disproportionate criminal policy” applied in these cases.

Speaking from Geneva, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, has urged the Chilean government [Translation] “to implement every means in its power to reach an agreement allowing a way out from the crisis posed by the Mapuche prisoners”, and suggested “amnesty for the defenders of aboriginal rights convicted under anti-terrorist laws”. Many intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky and José Saramago, a Nobel laureate in literature, have appealed to Michelle Bachelet on the Mapuche question. Up to now, there has been no response.

In this month of November 2007, the Mapuche people will mark the fifth anniversary since the assassination of Alex Lemún, a young Mapuche, aged 17, shot by a bullet in the head by the Chilean police while he was participating in the peaceful occupation of ancestral lands. Alex is one of the victims of this incomplete democratic transition which, in recent years, has been stained by the blood and suffering of the families who dare to arise to claim their rights. The policeman who fired the fatal shot has never been tried or even penalized. He was promoted to the rank of major.

Release sought

We hope that Michelle Bachelet’s “democratic” Chile will not become liable for a new death by remaining deaf to the demands of the political prisoners conducting a hunger strike in its prisons.

For that reason, we ask that she release all of the Mapuche political prisoners and put an end to the criminalization of the Mapuches’ social and political demands.

And we also appeal to the government of Canada, which, through the voice of its Minister of Indian Affairs, recently declared in the pages of this newspaper that “the situation of the aboriginal peoples throughout the world justifies taking concerted and concrete international measures.” We ask that he stand by his words and appeal to the government of Chile about this matter.

Initial signatories: Françoise David, spokeswoman for Québec solidaire; Richard Desjardins, performer; Henri Jacob, chair of Action boréale; Serge Mongeau, writer; Roméo Saganash, Grand Conseil des Cris; Daniel Turp, MNA (PQ) for Mercier; Alexis Wawanoloath, MNA (PQ) for Abitibi-Est.

Finally, we invite everyone who wishes to join in this appeal to visit the following web site:, where they can sign the on-line petition.


Further information on the Mapuche

Mapuche Indians in Chile Struggle to Take Back Forests (NYT)

Mapuche Political Prisoners Face Their Deaths

A Quebec solidarity web site (Trois-Rivières) with articles on the Mapuche

Mapuche Indians to Bill Gates: hands off our language