|Temuko de Chile
T H E F R O N T
Chile's Terror Duplicity
by Gretchen Gordon
Temuco, Chile - Sixteen indigenous Mapuche activists and supporters
in June found themselves on trial in Chile facing controversial charges
of "illicit terrorist association" based on their involvement
in the struggle for repossession of Mapuche territorial lands.
The defendants had been found not guilty of the same charges in November
of last year.
"For us, this is the second trial we're going to have for the same
crime," says Marcelo Quintrileo, one of the 16 Mapuche on trial.
He is 27 years old and faces a minimum 5-year jail sentence if found guilty.
"The only argument the prosecutors have put forth is that we're a
danger to society, that we're a terrorist organization. So the defense
says, 'But where is the proof?' Their response is that all of it is secret.
This is how they apply the Anti-Terrorism Law."
The trial is the latest example of the Chilean government's use of a Pinochet-era
Anti-Terrorism Law to prosecute Mapuche, part of what human rights groups
denounce as a pattern of discrimination, abuse and violation of due process.
According to an October 2004 report by Human Rights Watch and the Chilean
organization, Indigenous Peoples' Rights Watch, the unjustified use of
terrorism laws has allowed the Chilean government to keep Mapuche leaders
in pretrial detention for months, utilize secret investigations and "faceless"
witnesses, and subject defendants to double jeopardy.
Currently, almost a dozen Mapuche and one Chilean supporter are serving
prison sentences for terrorism convictions, and 14 more accused remain
in hiding, including 10 of the 16 facing trial in June.
The "illicit association" charge is based on the defendants'
involvement in the Arauco-Malleco Association (CAM), a Mapuche rights
organization named for two provinces engaged in efforts to recover lands
from forestry companies and large landowners.
In the new trial, the government prosecutor is once again contending that
the CAM is a terrorist organization, responsible for planning illegal,
violent acts and generating fear in the general population.
In April of this year, Chile's Supreme Court of Justice overruled a sentence
from the Criminal Court of Temuco, which had absolved the 16 Mapuche of
this same charge of 'illicit association' based on lack of credible evidence.
The criminal court had characterized testimony by several "faceless"
prosecution witnesses as "neither true nor credible," stating
that the prosecutor's witnesses "lack consistency and are vague and
The April overruling of the not-guilty verdict came at the behest of Augustin
Figueroa, a large landholder, former Minister of Agriculture under President
Patricio Aylwin, and current member of the Constitutional Court.
"It surprised me, not because I have confidence in justice,"
says Quintrileo, "but because what the judges had said was so well
argued, that legally it seemed almost impossible that they would annul
it, impossible that
Figueroa could come back and exert pressure."
The Root Conflict
The Mapuche struggle for land and autonomy stretches back to the Spanish
conquistadors, but the conflict with forestry companies has its roots
in the early years of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. In
the early 1970s, the Chilean government imposed a corporate-friendly economic
model with forestry plantations as the priority engine of growth. In a
counter-agricultural reform, the government auctioned off large tracks
of land that historically belonged to the Mapuche. Since then, a powerful
program of government subsidies has resulted in vast expansion of plantations
onto Mapuche land.
Chile currently has 6.2 million acres of monoculture tree plantations,
approximately 3.7 million acres of which are on historically Mapuche land.
Over 60 percent of this forestry activity is controlled by the Matte and
Angelini families, under the corporate banners of CMPC (Mininco), and
For Mapuche communities, the fight against the forestry companies is not
just a matter of land, but of environmental and socio-economic well-being.
The plantation-model of cultivation drains water supplies, exhausts soil
nutrients and utilizes aerially sprayed pesticides.
"There are many Mapuche communities who are virtually surrounded
by pine plantations - communities who don't have water, who don't have
medicinal plants, who don't have fertile land," says Alfredo Seguel,
a working member of the Mapuche Coordinating Group of Organizations and
"The plantations have produced a profound change in the way of life
for these communities."
Human rights advocates argue that the crimes for which the Mapuche have
been charged, most involving property damage and none involving a direct
threat to life, aren't consistent with international definitions of terrorist
"Chile's use of the anti-terrorism law for crimes committed by Mapuche
in the context of land conflicts, which do not approach this threshold
of seriousness, is not only inappropriate but also reinforces existing
prejudices against the Mapuche people," finds the Human Rights Watch
The Chilean government, however, maintains that the anti-terrorism law
is applied only in cases of "extreme gravity." Subsecretary
of Planning, and Coordinator of Indigenous Programs and Policies, Jaime
Andrade, says that the Anti-Terrorism Law has only been used in relationship
to "acts of violence in which it unfortunately was not possible to
use other instruments."
In Chile, a country that meticulously guards its recently regained outward
image of democracy and development, the application of a terrorist label
to the Mapuche movement is poignant. Chile's "DINA, CNE, Augusto
Pinochet, Manuel Contreras remain [free], though they're proven terrorists,"
says Quintrileo, referring to the leading forces of repression during
the Pinochet dictatorship.
"In no other part of the world is the impunity as great as what they
have; nonetheless, against the Mapuche, they accuse us of being terrorists."
In March 2004, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, United Nations Special Rapporteur
for Indigenous Rights, presented a report to the United Nations Commission
on Human Rights in which he condemned the use of the Anti-Terrorism Law
in the Mapuche land conflict. The report recommends that the Chilean government
grant a general amnesty to those prosecuted for land reclamations under
anti-terrorism laws, and "take the necessary measures to end the
criminalization of the legitimate activities of protest or social demands"
of the Mapuche people.
"Unfortunately, one year after the report, you can't see many advances
in the fulfillment of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur,"
says Jose Aylwin, director of Temuco-based Indigenous Peoples' Rights
Watch. "Given the lack of proof demonstrating that the accused are
part of an association that exhibits illicit or terrorist characteristics,
the government has here a great opportunity to demonstrate, through dropping
this case, its willingness not to criminalize the demands of the Mapuche
people as the Special Relateur Stavenhagen urged in his report. We hope
that it will."
But for Quintrileo and many other Mapuche, any hope for the Chilean justice
system is long since gone.
In June, Quintrileo did not appear in court. He is now in hiding along
with nine other accused Mapuche and an order has been issued for his arrest.
In a communiqué, he and Oscar Higueras, a 22-year-old also in hiding,
explained their decision not to appear before the court.
"We are not participating in this judicial circus, we will not validate
the dirty game of the prosecutors or their public minister," they
said. "The justice in this country is for the rich and powerful.
We aren't fooled by that
false promise of democracy."
- Gretchen Gordon