Watching celebrity hack Jorge Lanata’s interview with the jailed Mapuche activist Jones Huala, one is struck by the sensationalism with which Lanata approaches the conversation. Not through his manner (which as a veteran broadcaster is relaxed, almost Zen, on screen) so much as his use of language and choice of subject.
Lanata compares the activist leader to theocratic fascists of the Islamic State (how erroneous can one simile be?!) He calls him “pathetic” among other insults. He mocks the lack of public support for Jones Huala, asking him “where are the people calling for your liberation? I can’t see them” to which Huala replies that his grandmother and a handful of others had protested outside the prison prior to the interview. Lanata goads Huala on the constitution, on land rights, on Mapuche “spiritualism.” He ends up laughing in the jailed man’s face while they discuss Mapuche lineage.
C’mon, Jorge. Where Is The Love? So public humiliation counts as journalism? Yes—apparently. If you do it under the tagline Journalism For Everyone (PPT) and broadcast it on the El Trece channel.
Status Quo Theatrics
The interview was pure theatre. Right down to the costumes; perhaps more Spaghetti Western—Lanata, the Good Guy, in an ironed shirt and spotless black cardigan. Huala, the Bad Guy, in a poncho and bandana.
Lanata delivered an obscurantist and pro-establishment performance. An accomplished broadcaster, he mainly argued for around 20 minutes with the imprisoned indigenous activist about their own diffuse personal beliefs. He afforded little genuine attention to the situation of the Mapuche communities in Argentina (and Chile) which tends to be severe economic and political inequality based on centuries of repression.
From the Spanish colonization through General Roca’s genocidal “Desert Campaign” against them in the south to the present moment, where indigenous communities throughout Argentina are among the most economically downtrodden and politically un-represented minorities in the country, the Mapuche have accumulated serious and legit grievances about the current state of affairs in Argentina—a nation state that was built around them, without their input, and at their great expense.
But Lanata didn’t want to talk about any of that in the interview.
He also avoided mentioning reports of Border Patrol officers attacking Mapuche communities in the months prior to a much-publicized reprisal raid on an outpost belonging to clothing multinational Benetton (Luciano Benetton, the billionaire owner, also owns more land in Patagonia than anyone else).
The reasons why members of these communities, like the radical Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche (RAM) group that Huala fronts, feel the need to use direct actions and even violence, were not really explored in the interview.
Lanata preferred to corner Huala with esoteric questions about the nation state, the Constitution, corporate industry and private property.
All these “norms” or recognized elements of the status quo in liberal capitalist societies were treated as sacred by Lanata. Indeed they are beyond questioning or critical thought for most people of influence in powerful positions like big media. And Lanata is no exception to this. So when Huala did question private property—much less holy, less relevant for him and his supporters than it is for Lanata and the rest of us in the comfy bourgeoisie—he was torn to shreds as being unpatriotic, unconstitutional.
And a key reason for Lanata staging the interview (for those as cynical as the present author) was revealed: The discrediting of Mapuche resistance to unilateral state-corporate development in southern Argentina.
Master of Distraction
And we were still no closer to finding out the deeper, root causes for the arson attack on Benetton that Jones Huala appears to be caught up in.
Lanata was not playing ball, but on several occasions Huala attempted to bring up some of these issues anyway. He told Lanata, quite truthfully, that “indigenous people are starving to death” in Argentina, as The Bubble has reported. Lanata just deflected, and jumped at the chance to mock Huala’s loose assertion that things are “worse” than they were in 2001. More interview time wasted. Then they got to sparring over the labyrinth question of whether the Mapuche could prove their ancestors (unaccustomed to the idea of private property as we understand it today) had legally owned the land now being exploited by Benetton et al. Tick tock.
Why did Lanata do this and avoid talking about the hardships faced by the Mapuche in detail? Aren’t these issues at the core of the on-going conflict between the Mapuche and their supporters on the one side, and state-corporate power on the other?
Perhaps he did not see the United Nations’ assessment of indigenous rights and treatment in Argentina, which came out last year and was quickly passed over in the national media. (Most news stories about the country’s indigenous communities are).
Well, I have read it (I had to—I covered the press conference where these findings were announced for the Buenos Aires Herald last year). The words used by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia seared themselves into my memory and stayed there ever since.
In particular, the situation for indigenous people in certain areas of the country is horrible. They are living in extreme poverty, they face isolation from others and disenfranchisement… [there is]… an absence of indigenous people and minorities in key decision-making positions.
Most alarming are the reports of repression in certain parts of the country against groups mobilizing to protest for indigenous rights, and the reprisals against civilian organizers and leaders as well as members of their families and migrants.
Therefore, I make an appeal to the national government and the provincial authorities for immediate action to provide the necessary protection and due process for those defending civil rights and their families who are harassed and face judicial persecution by the security forces in the country.
When Lanata quizzed Huala on his commitment to democracy during the interview, Huala said he supports it but doesn’t feel its current practice in Argentina will do anything for him or the Mapuche.
Is it any wonder?
In the final moments of the interview, the elephant in the room was addressed.
The disappearance of the activist Santiago Maldonado has rightly swept national and international headlines.
It happened on August 1, while he was demonstrating in support of Mapuche locals resisting around 100 border guards, who “violently marched into a piece of land belonging to the Pu Lof Mapuche indigenous community in Resistencia, Chubut [and] repressed and evicted members of the community,” according to Amnesty International Argentina. Maldonado disappeared in the ensuing melee.
In the interview, Lanata eventually broke cover and reinforced the original government line that the activist’s disappearance was not a forced disappearance. Jones Huala disagreed. Lanata appeared to come off better on television. But the current evidence may in fact suggest his views do not. As La Nación among other outlets highlighted recently, a forced disappearance at the hands of the security forces cannot be ruled out.
This wasn’t even grazed on by Lanata, who came full circle by closing the interview soon after.
In its sum it was a televised discussion that became a tool to discredit Jones Huala, and by association the indigenous Mapuche he represented and their resistance to economic and political exclusion, to corporate land grabs, to hunger and poverty, to the many and myriad ways indigenous communities like theirs are suffering in modern-day Argentina.
We shouldn’t really be shocked by the sensationalism, the absence of impartiality or the extremely poor taste on display in Lanata’s patronizing delivery (“tell me what you think cutie”) and belligerent interview manner. They’re some of his hot-keyed weapons. They more or less guarantee airtime and attention. Tabloidism For Everyone!