The Mapuche territory, the Wallmapu, was never settled by Spanish colonial forces. It remained an autonomous region up until it was partitioned and divided in the late nineteenth century by the newly-formed colonial states of Argentina and Chile. Today, the memories of violence, forced dispossession and relocation brought about by ‘Operación Conquista del Desierto’ in Argentina and ‘Operación Pacificación de la Araucania’ in Chile are as vivid as ever.
A few weeks ago, on Sept. 23, eight of the most prominent and radical-autonomist Mapuche leaders were illegally and violently detained by Chilean state forces as part of a joint operation conducted by the Chilean National Intelligence Agency (ANI) and the Carabineros (the Chilean national police force). None of these leaders were provided a formal detention order–the Carabineros argued that a ‘verbal detention warrant’ was sufficient.
Héctor Llaitul, Ernesto Llaitul, Jaime Huenchullán, Rodrigo Huenchullán, David Cid Aedo, Martín Curiche, Claudio Leiva and the machi (religious authority) Fidel Tranamil were accused of “illicit terrorist association”.
As of Oct. 10, 2017, no evidence to the charge has been presented by the prosecution. Despite the lack of evidence, the Mapuche leaders must remain in preventive detention for at least four months until the charges are investigated.
This has become a way of life in the communities of Wallmapu. Carabinero presence and intimidation abounds.
In the past, under similar circumstances, Mapuche leaders and community members (comuneros) had to remain in preventive prison for almost two years, only to be later acquitted of the crimes.
The legal instrument that allows undue process is the Anti-Terrorist Law or Law 18.314, enacted by Augusto Pinochet in 1984 to facilitate the crushing of political dissidence. This is by far one of the most brutal laws in Chilean history and it is evident that its permanence and broad utilization by democratically-elected governments, particularly from 2000 onwards, puts into question whether Chile is in fact is a democracy in the beyond-electoral sense of the term.
The law enables the prosecution to withhold evidence from the defendant for up to six months and allows the accused to be convicted based solely on unidentifiable witness testimony.
Despite the controversy embedded in this framework, there is an ongoing national debate unfolding today over whether this already-violent undemocratic process is ‘tough enough’ to fight Mapuche so-called ‘terrorism’.
Former President Sebastian Piñera recently argued that Law 18.314 “needs to be perfected to make it more efficacious”. He suggests “establishing the figure of the concealed agent as well as protected witnesses and informants […] the terrorists should not be given even a millimeter of advantage; they must be combated with all the rigor of the law”.
The reality is that the isomorphism of capital and state is systematically encroaching upon new territories using new technologies and mechanisms of power. These mechanisms are constituted of both underhanded symbolic components and substantial material violence. On the one hand, the ideological narrative around the figure of the Mapuche so-called ‘terrorist’ justifies the violent tactics espoused by the state, such as the recent Operación Huracán.
As a consequence, this discourse of terrorism propagated by the state ensures the smooth structural penetration of capital in the communal lands of Wallmapu.
Mapuche Freedom in Wallmapu
For the Mapuche nation on the Chilean side of Wallmapu, the idea of a decolonized and free territory materialized in the late 1990s, when territorial revindication projects were set into motion by Mapuche movements in the southern provinces of Arauco and Malleco in the Araucanía Region. As Mapuche historian Fernando Pairican has explained, the decolonial mobilization emerged in the wake of Pinochet’s 1974 Decree 701 that paved the way for the rapid advance of large-forestry corporates over Wallmapu by providing them with extensive subsidies and overly generous tax incentives.
The return of democracy to power in the 1990s paradoxically strengthened Pinochet’s program for the systematic advance of capital in Wallmapu. Since then, the Chilean state has sponsored mass land-grabbing projects (mainly of forestry and hydroelectric nature) as well as functioned as a de facto guardian for the latifundista elite.
According to the provisos embedded in Decree 701, forestry companies today enjoy state subsidies of up to 75%. It is no coincidence then that two of the biggest forestry corporates, CMPC and Bosques Arauco, own by themselves over two million hectares while the whole Mapuche nation holds ownership of less than 500,000 hectares (and these statistics are based on conservative estimates).
Wallmapu is today dominated by capitalist monoculture plantation projects and militarization. Driving through Bío Bío and Araucanía regions, one can see kilometer after kilometer of eucalyptus and pine plantations, while encountering frequent carabinero (police) checkpoints, as well as military tanks and heavily armed Carabineros passing by.
The workings of the state-capital conglomerate is clearly reflected in recent events. On September 23, vast communities were violently raided while mainstream media provided a previously unseen live coverage of how the Mapuche leaders were arrested. Time and time again, images of Mapuche leaders were shown on national television. The terms ‘Mapuche terrorism’ and ‘national security’ were repeated endlessly.
It was a display of power; a case where the repressive state apparatus (use of helicopters, tanks, heavily armed Carabineros, etc.) was accompanied by a de facto corporate sponsorship of the detentions. According to Mapuche leader and founder of the Coordinadora de Comunidades en Conflicto Arauco Malleco (CAM), Héctor Llaitul and Ernesto Llaitul, member of CAM–both in preventive detention since September 23–Operación Huracán “has aimed to publicly delegitimize the Mapuche autonomist movement, through a communicational show that has sought to discredit […] the fair and dignified struggle for the revindication of our political and territorial rights”.
For these leaders, newspapers like the conservative El Mercurio and other mainstream corporate outlets [Emol, La Nación, Cooperativa Cl, etc.] “continue to perpetuate the racist discourse already prevalent against the Mapuche nation”, one that constructs the Mapuche as “barbaric”, “terrorist-prone” and “violent”.
Héctor and Ernesto Llaitul have also argued that “this racist discourse embedded in Operación Huracán [and] aided by right-wing media, serves the interests of the forestry and hydrolelectric corporates as well the interests of all capitalist investments expanding throughout Wallmapu today.”
For their part, the Comunidad Autónoma Temucuicui whose leaders, Jaime Huenchullán and Rodrigo Huenchullán were detained during Operación Huracán, has also condemned the brutality of the raids and illegal detentions. In Mapuche Werken, the community stated that “the [operation] was aimed at deviating attention from the internal problems of the state and the prosecutor’s office in general. This was a political operation motivated by the desperation of the state in its incapability of solving the ‘historic debt’ with the Mapuche people.” Rather than addressing the Mapuche demands, “the state has relinquished to corporate pressures of the agricultural, forestry and transport industries. In this sense, the detentions are nothing else but a repressive act that seeks to halt the demands of the Mapuche movement.”
The community went on to say that detentions sent a strong message to industries that are eager to expand through the region. Overall, for the Comunidad Autónoma Temucuicui, “the state has aimed to extinguish the fire with benzene.”
From the Prison of Angol, Jaime and Rodrigo Huenchullán referred to Operación Huracán as a plan to “delegitimize the political and territorial revindications of the Comunidad Autónoma Temucuicui during the past decades […] we argue that this strategy evinces the submission of the state to economic interests.”
All in all, what we see in Chile today is the unapologetic application of a dictatorship-era anti-terrorist law by a supposed democratic government against the Mapuche nation, whose demands have been nothing but self-determination, autonomy and freedom—something that includes absolute economic and material freedom.
The concentration of capital supported by the state apparatuses in Wallmapu has led to mass dispossession and a further fragmentation of the Mapuche world. Denied any form of agency; cornered into small rukas (houses) which are surrounded by vast forestry plantations; repressed by the savagery of carabinero forces on their everyday lives; Mapuche communities have aimed to halt the advance of capital and the further penetration of the state in Wallmapu. Their struggle can be best defined as one that is both anti-colonial, anti-statist and anti-capitalist.