Photo: Gustavo Zaninelli

Tensions between some members of the Mapuche community and the Government in Chubut are intensifying, as local police forces clamp down on a Mapuche community occupying land owned by the Benetton group in the northwest of the province.

The land, owned by multinational textile corporation, Benetton, was reclaimed by the Mapuche group “Lof en Resistenia” in March of 2015, on the basis that it was stolen from their ancestors and that they need it for their subsistence.

After evicting a group of Mapuche activists who had blocked off the tracks of a tourist train which runs through land the Lelenque Estate on Tuesday, the police appeared to step up their efforts yesterday, with reports of Chubut police entering the Mapuche community in Cushaman department, firing rubber bullets indiscriminately at community members.

“They came into kill,” said community spokesperson, Soraya Maicoñia, who describes a scene of devastation, with dozens injured: “they beat the women, mistreated the children, and destroyed everything”. The brother of Mapuche lonco, or leader, Facundo Jones Huala, Fausto Jones Huala, was shot in the head by a rubber bullet, and one member of the community is in a critical condition.

Injury sustained as a result of raid. Photo: Twitter
Injury sustained as a result of raid. Photo: Twitter

The community has argued that, although Tuesday’s eviction of Mapuche blocking the train tracks was carried out under orders from a federal judge, yesterday’ raid was illegal. “Last night’s repression by the Infantry…was completely illegal, they had no order,” said Maicoñia.

Photo: fmalas.org.ar
Photo: fmalas.org.ar

The Mapuche are supported by human rights group in their claims. In a statement letter published this morning, Amnesty International denounced the “attacks on the Mapuche community.” Argentine executive director, Mariela Belski, criticized the actions of police, stating that “a lack of transparency and accountability cannot be the principles that traverse through police operations.”

Some see yesterday’s actions as part of a broader plot to criminalize social protest and stigmatize the Mapuche in Argentina. Last year, in a letter signed by 37 indigenous rights organizations and NGOs, Amnesty expressed its “grave concern for the treatment of the claims of diverse members and institutions of the Mapuche people,” and warned of an institutionalized attempt to criminalize the Mapuche.

The Federal and Provincial Government tell a different tale. The governor of Chubut is holding firm that the incidents are the product of a “group of thugs” who don’t respect law and order. Mario Das Neves argues that the violence has been perpetrated by those “who don’t respect the law, the patria, the flag, and who are always assaulting everyone.”

Das Neves has been criticised by human rights groups for describing Mapuche communities as “threats to social security.” Last year, he called for called for the resignation of a Federal Judge who declared void an attempt to extradite Mapuche activist Facundo Jones Huala to Chile because key witnesses involved in the case were tortured by the police. Das Neves, who governs a sprawling southern province that is home to more than 110 indigenous groups, said “we don’t want federal judges who connive with delinquents,” a comment that outraged human rights organizations and members of the Mapuche organization.

When the Ancestral Mapuche Resistance (RAM) seized, and successfully defended their ancestral land two years ago, many people in the human rights community celebrated this as a victory for indigenous autonomy and self-determination.

For the Mapuche, they are defending something that – in their eyes, and perhaps in the eyes of the Constitution, which recognises the existence of indigenous peoples in Argentina prior to colonization, and the economic, political and social rights flowing from that – belongs to them.

However, for Las Neves, and other members of the Government, the actions of the Mapuche resistance are violent and undermine the rule of law. All members of Chubut province should be subject to the same law, argues Las Neves, who says the other option is living in a “violent society.”

With two such diametrically opposed views, one can’t help but to ask if there is any room for consensus.