Mapuche murders not just a right-wing issue

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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.

Camilo CatrillancaHowever, 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 within political representation.

 

"Catrillanca's killing has historical precedents — it is not merely a manifestation of Pinera's right-wing politics."

 

History offers ample examples of the ramifications of militarisation. In 2014, a special report titled 'The Rise and Fall of "False Positive" killings in Colombia: The Role of US Military Assistance 2000-2010' shows a correlation between US assistance to the Colombian military and the number of extrajudicial killings within that timeframe. WHINSEC, formerly known as the School of the Americas, is still involved in the training of the Colombian military. The report stated that 48 per cent of officers trained by the school were charged with extrajudicial killings.

Chile's political reality is different, hence it is unlikely that the statistics there will reflect those of Colombia. However, Chileans face a reality in which the dictatorship never completely disappeared from state institutions.

Pinera's electoral campaign promised to 'modernise' Chile's anti-terror laws, signalling stronger repressive tactics since the transition to democracy. However, Mapuche repression and military ties between Chile and Colombia post-dictatorship can be traced back to former President Eduardo Frei in the 1990s.

Former President Ricardo Lagos was declared persona non grata by Mapuche communities in 2016 for his application of the anti-terror laws. Under Michelle Bachelet, however, the application of Pinochet's anti-terror laws is considered to have yielded the most victims. Unsurprisingly, Bachelet, who is now UN Human Rights Commissioner, remained silent for six days after the killing, only to issue a perfunctory statement expressing mere 'preoccupation' about the killing.

Catrillanca's killing has historical precedents — it is not merely a manifestation of Pinera's right-wing politics. The difference between Bachelet and Pinera lies in their approaches. Under Bachelet, Mapuche oppression was widespread. One of her last systematic actions against the Mapuche, Operacion Huracan, in which Mapuche activists were targeted, was in contravention of her promise that she would not apply the anti-terror laws to the community anymore.

Bachelet's tactic was to employ a strategy of oppression and purported dialogue, the latter to be breached at the government's convenience, helped by the fact that political support for the Mapuche is negligible.

Pinera has no reason to attempt a dual role — his cabinet, which includes dictatorship-era representatives, is overtly against indigenous rights and the militarisation of Mapuche territory in order to advance industrial projects. Catrillanca's killing, like those of other Mapuche murdered by the Chilean state, is not just a question of targeting the indigenous population. It must be seen within the wider framework — an approach that eliminates perceived obstacles to the neoliberal politics espoused by the government and which receives tacit support across the political spectrum in Chile.

 

 

Ramona WadiRamona Wadi is a freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.

Topic tags: Ramona Wadi, Chile, Camilo Catrillanca

 

 

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