Chile: New state terror as police kill Mapuche activist Camilo Catrillanca

Issue 

The recent death of 24-year-old Mapuche activist Camilo Catrillanca, who was gunned down in a police raid, has sparked wide condemnation and protests throughout Chile, writes Rodrigo Acuña.

On November 14, a newly created special “anti-terrorist” unit of the Chilean police known as Comando Jungla entered the Mapuche traditional community of Temukuikui near the town of Ercilla in the Araucanía region, about 370 miles south of Santiago. Claiming to be in pursuit of local car thieves, the operation involved hundreds of police officers with two helicopters.     

Returning home with a 15-year-old minor on his tractor who was also wounded in the incident, Catrillanca — the grandson of a local indigenous leader — was shot multiple times. Community members say that, despite having suffered serious wounds, Catrillanca was surrounded by police and taken to a local clinic instead of a hospital. The minor who accompanied Catrillanca has recently given a statement to the Public Ministry, claims he was assaulted by police afterwards.

Quick to back the police special forces version of events that claimed Catrillanca was killed in a crossfire, interior minister Andrés Chadwick spoke to the press in a series of bungled press conferences. For days, Chadwick even went as far as to suggest that Catrillanca had a criminal record, cynically implying his death was warranted.

The government’s version of events drew much ridicule when it was proven Catrillanca had no previous convictions. This is in contrast to Chiliean President Sebastian Piñera who, in 1982, was declared a delinquent and fugitive from justice after stealing funds from the Bank of Talca. (Eventually Piñera was saved by an intervention by then-justice minister Mónica Madariaga under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.)

Comando Jungla, according to Bloomberg, has been trained in Colombia and the United States, and “equipped with bullet-proof jackets, drones and high-tech communications systems”. As a result, the official government’s version of events was further discredited when police could produce no video footage of their operation.

Eventually, second sergeant Raúl Ávila Morales declared he had video footage of the incident on his GoPro camera, but destroyed it as the memory card had private images on it.

Catrillanca’s death is only the latest in a series of actions by the Chilean state that have defended the forestry industry and other firms exploiting southern Chile’s natural resources. The forestry industry argues they have legally bought or rented large tracts of land in this part of the country.

Indigenous communities, however, have complained for years about the negative environmental impacts of their logging activities. Among other effects, it results in soil erosion of indigenous crops and contaminates livestock food supplies.

Many Mapuche communities have decided to fight back. According to statistics published by a local business association in the city of Temuco, last year 43 attacks took place against logging companies that mainly involved arson.

Forestry firms hired their own security guards, but in recent years Carabineros de Chile, the national police force, has stepped in to protect forestry companies while being accused of persecuting indigenous activists and falsifying evidence against them.

Journalist Francisco Marín wrote: “The murder of Catrillanca joins a series of other similar incidents, in which carabineros have killed unarmed Mapuche, as happened with Alex Lemún Saavedra (2002), Matías Catrileo Quezada (2008) and Jaime Mendoza Collío (2009).

“Although justice proved that the police versions to justify them were false, all those responsible were condemned to low sentences.”

Excluding Catrillanca, according to the indigenous newspaper Werkén.cl, since 2001 the number of Mapuche activists murdered stands at 14. Earlier this year, the Red por la Defensa de la Infancia Wallmapu (Network for the Defense of Childhood Wallmapu) noted that more than 40 Mapuche children have been mistreated by police, including suffering gunshot wounds.  

Adding further complexity to the conflict, Carabineros de Chile appears all too keen to request state funds in dealing with Mapuche protests. This comes, as observes Christopher A Martínez from Temuco Catholic University, as the police force is “currently going through its deepest crisis yet in the post Pinochet period” as many “top-ranking Carabineros officials, including a former general, are under investigation for a US$40 million fraud.”

To make matters worse, the Chilean state in the past two decades has commenced to use the Anti-Terrorist Law (specifically Law 18.314) against the Mapuche. Established under the Pinochet dictatorship in 1984, the law facilited the crushing of political dissidence. Both Amnesty International and the United Nations have condemned the use of the Anti-Terrorist Law against the Mapuche.

In some of the latest developments, the intendant of the Araucanía region has resigned while several police officers have done likewise or been suspended. The National Institute for Human Rights has also filed a criminal lawsuit against the Carabineros claiming murder, attempted murder and obstruction of justice.

According to the 2017 national census, the Mapuche population numbers 1,745,147 (9.9% of the Chilean population) while they have lost 95% of their native lands.

[Reprinted from Red Pepper.]