Chile: UN indigenous rights rapporteur fears abuse of Mapuche people

After a five-day visit to Chile the week of April 6, United Nations special rapporteur for indigenous rights James Anaya said there was evidence that police agents use excessive violence against the indigenous Mapuche communities, which make up about 4% of Chile’s population. Chilean human rights groups and international organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that the police break up Mapuche street protests violently and have raided Mapuche communities without proper authorization.

“I’ve received a lot of documentation from NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] that I consider to do high quality investigative work,” Anaya said. “I do find, I do feel, there is sufficient basis for taking these allegations very seriously.” Anaya also heard from individuals and met with government officials, including President Michelle Bachelet. He said Bachelet’s government had helped the country’s indigenous communities by reducing rural poverty and giving them greater access to health care, but he insisted that there was still much more to do. On April 13 Interior Subsecretary Patricio Rosende denied “categorically that there is discriminatory treatment of the Mapuche people” in police operations, which he said are carried out in conformity with legal norms. (BBC News, April 10; Univision, April 13 from EFE)

On April 11 the police arrested 11 leaders and members of the Arauco Mapuche Coordinating Committee (CAM) and charged them with involvement in an ambush against prosecutor Mario Elgueta and a police convoy on Oct. 6, 2008, in the Puerto Choque sector of Tirúa in southern Chile; Elgueta, the chief prosecutor in Mapuche cases, was shot in the hand, and five police agents were lightly injured. The CAM members were taken to the Lebu prison, where they can be held for six months while the investigation continues. Some 130 civilian police agents were involved the arrests, which an April 13 communiqué from the CAM called “a repressive attack” to “smooth the way…for forestry investment in the zone” and for mining operations in Lleu Lleu lake. This “would mean the final annihilation of the Mapuche communities in this zone,” CAM said. (ANSA, April 12; Univision, April 13 from EFE)

Expansion of the agricultural industry in neighboring Argentina is putting pressure on Mapuche, Wichi, Guaraní and other indigenous communities there. In 1994 Argentina incorporated indigenous rights into its Constitution, but indigenous communities began being evicted in northern and central Argentina in 2002 as courts gave big farming company owners land titles to some of these areas for profitable soy cultivation. In 2006 legislators suspended the evictions for four years, but little has been done to grant land titles to the indigenous communities. (Latinamérica Press, March 25)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 12

See our last post on the Mapuche.