As Chile shifted its attention to the coronavirus pandemic, which brought out the country’s widespread social inequalities, the state’s aggression towards the Mapuche people went on unhindered. In June, President Sebastian Piñera dispatched 80 members of its special forces to Temuco in the Araucania region, as resistance to state violence against the indigenous populations increased. Earlier in the same month, a Mapuche leader, Alejandro Alberto Treuquil, was murdered by “individuals outside the community”, as the community’s statement reads. Treuquil is said to have received death threats from the Chilean police.
Militarising the Araucania region has been a priority for Piñera. The region is rich in natural resources and the Mapuche are an obstacle to the neoliberal policies which have dominated Chile since the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. The 1984 anti-terror laws, also part of the dictatorship legacy, have been applied against the Mapuche population in a bid to criminalise their resistance to exploitation and territorial plunder.
Since the coronavirus outbreak in Chile, the Mapuche have experienced a rapid deterioration in their lives. Access to education, health care and work opportunities are already scant, and the population lives in poverty. Mapuche political prisoners, already discriminated against politically, have now been further isolated from members of the community. Non-existent sanitary conditions as well as the prohibition of visits have exacerbated the political isolation.
Piñera has, on occasions, denied the existence of Mapuche political prisoners – the contention being the political connotation – which is in direct confrontation with the Chilean government’s narrative of alleged Mapuche terrorism.
In a statement to Chile’s Interior Minister Victor Perez, Mapuche spokesman for the Mapuche prisoners in Temuco prison, Juan Pichun, declared, “We want you to know that there are not only political prisoners here, there are also murders and torture going on against members of the Mapuche community.”
Perez, the newly-appointed interior minister, has a history of dictatorship links, including publicly defending the Nazi criminal and dictatorship collaborator, Paul Schafer. Schafer is known for the cult he created at Colonia Dignidad – the premises also served as a detention and torture centre during the Pinochet dictatorship.
Mapuche communities protested against Perez’s first visit in the Araucania region, leading to an increase in security measures in the region after Perez declared Mapuche people involved in resistance as “organised groups with financing and quite a lot of fire power,” while stating that the government must “isolate the violent people.” Several days after the visit, Mapuche protestors occupied the town hall of Curacautín in protest over the imprisonment of members of their community and were violently attacked by an armed mob. The attack sparked protests across Chile, some of which were violently dispersed by the Chilean police.
The UN has urged investigations into the recent state violence against the Mapuche people, noting the rise of racial violence by Chileans against the indigenous, as well as the excessive use of force meted out by the Chilean state.
UN calls for intervention however, are ineffective. The institution’s bureaucracy thrives upon human rights violations to sustain itself. In what is deemed yet another insult to the Mapuche population last June, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, now UN Human Rights Commissioner, claimed to have no knowledge of the Mapuche hunger strikes when faced by a Mapuche woman in Geneva, Switzerland. The reason given, as ludicrous as it sounds, was that in her spare time, Bachelet reads right-wing media El Mercurio, which she says published no such information.
Yet Bachelet herself was a strong advocate of the Pinochet-era anti-terror laws to be used against the Mapuche population. Having carried on the dictatorship legacy herself during both her presidential terms, despite her family and herself being tortured by Pinochet’s National Intelligence Directorate, is it so surprising that a right-wing government diligently following dictatorship neoliberal policies, would prioritise the criminalisation of Mapuche resistance?