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Mapuche murders not just a right-wing issue

  • 27 November 2018


The killing of Mapuche youth Camilo Catrillanca earlier this month triggered outrage throughout Chile and the resurgence of a prevailing fear that the country is becoming increasingly militarised. President Sebastian Pinera has indeed acted upon his electoral promises, which included restructuring the dictatorship-era anti-terror laws in order to make it easier to criminalise the indigenous population's resistance for land reclamation.

However, any action taken by Pinera is not merely a result of right-wing resurgence. Since the fall of Pinochet's US-backed dictatorship, subsequent governments during the democratic transition and afterwards remained tethered to the neoliberal constitution and legacy.

Catrillanca's death at the hands of a special unit trained by the US and Colombia, known as the Comando Jungla, is the latest in a growing list of killings of Mapuche people by the Chilean state since the end of the dictatorship. The state's official version describes the killing as an incident occurring during a raid in search of a group of car thieves.

Yet the systematic violence employed against Catrillanca, who was on his tractor and accompanied by a minor, follows a pattern of violence that is reserved for the indigenous community. A total of 23 bullets does not constitute an incident — it is a targeted killing of an individual from the Mapuche community.

The minor who witnessed Catrillanca's killing was later arrested by the special forces, beaten and interrogated. His testimony describes an unwarranted assault on Catrillanca that goes beyond an incident. Four policemen have been arrested in connection with Catrillanca's killing. However, Chilean Interior Minister Andres Chadwick announced that video evidence related to the killing had been destroyed.

Responding to public pressure, Pinera ordered an investigation, yet openly stated his support of the Comando Jungla — a move that emphasises the state's impunity and collaboration in covering up killings committed by its actors. Catrillanca was unarmed and driving a tractor when he was accosted — Pinera's statement regarding the special forces' 'right to defend themselves when attacked' is a cover-up for yet another criminal assault on the Mapuche population.

Pinera's move signified two things — the government's implicit refusal to recognise indigenous land rights, as well as overt collaboration with external forces to repress the Mapuche population. Latin America's recent swing to the right is normalising such tactics, as sympathisers of, and former officers who served during, dictatorship eras are promoting a rhetoric of violence that finds opposition on the streets but no formidable, unified voice