Mapuche Political Prisoners

This article was written by the Uruguayan journalist and militant, Raúl Zibechi. The original in Spanish can be found on the Desinformémonos website here: 

“If I compare the current situation to that of eleven years ago, I see a notable change in our people”, explained Mónica Quezada, mother of Matías Catrileo, who was shot in the back in 2008 while taking back Mapuche land. Mónica is referring to the recent massive social mobilizations, which started November 14th,when Camilo Catrillanca was killed, also from the back.

The conversation took place this past Monday December 10th, in the prison of Temuco,where we visited three of the eight Mapuche political prisoners: the brothers Benito and Pablo Trangol and the Machi Celestino Córdova. They were surrounded by more than a half dozen women from the community, who come every week, as political sisters of the prisoners.

The Trangol brothers were accused of burning an evangelical church, but were incriminated by “faceless witnesses” and subjected to the Antiterrorist Law. They carried out a hunger strike for more than 100 days last year, to reverse the application of the antiterrorist legislation, which according to human rights organizations represents violence, racism and ethnic discrimination against the Mapuche people.

A brother of the Trangol and a community authority joined the extensive hunger strike, demanding the beginning of a fair trial and a nullification of the antiterrorist law. At that point, the Trangol brothers had been held for more than one year without trial. The justice system dictated a ten-year sentence for 35-year-old Benito and 25-year-old Pablo, with no more evidence than the declarations of a woman whose information not even the lawyers know.

Machi Celestino was charged in relation to the investigations of the death of the married couple of the Luchsinger-Mackay hacienda in 2013. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He carried out an extensive hunger strike for more than 100 days to be able to briefly return to his community to carry out a traditional ceremony and with the ceremony fulfill his function as Machi (a religious Mapuche authority).

The impression that we got during the visit, confirmed in dialogues with Mapuche authorities,is that the repression is growing at an exponential rate. Some community members shared that the Carabineros (Chilean National Police) use illegal repressive forms to attack the communities. This repression comes down particularly hard on authorities committed to the recuperation of lands and resistance to the Chilean State.

The crimes of Catrileo and Catrillanca show clearly the criminal actions of the Carabineros.In both cases, the uniformed men lied. Catrileo died in a peaceful demonstration in the Santa Margarita estate, owned by Jorge Luchsinger. The property had been reclaimed by the Mapuche communities, but was being defended by Carabineros when they shot the Mapuche militant. They said there was an armed confrontation, but the assassins had to be punished when their lies were dismantled. They were consequently removed from the force.

Catrillanca was shot in the back by a member of the Jungla Command of Carabineros while driving a tractor. The first version of the Carabineros was that the action was in response to cars stolen from professors at the school in Ercilla by a group of hooded men. They said that Catrillanca had a criminal record. They claimed that the action had not been filmed, but in reality they destroyed the evidence.

When all the lies collapsed, the government had to back down and throughout Chile demonstrations multiplied in support of the Mapuche people. Mónica, Matías Catrileo’s mother, was referring to this massive mobilization when she mentioned the growth of the Mapuche people in this long and difficult decade.

Just as the assassination of Matías forged a new group of militants, Camilo’s assassination is expanding the horizon of an entire people. What is really new in contemporary Chile is not the Mapuche struggle, a people that have been struggling for five centuries,but the involvement of new groups of youth (and not so youth) in a long-lasting fight against the genocidal and terrorist state.

That “power”that Mónica mentioned, the growth of the Mapuche people, cannot be verified in the large protests or in the actions of repudiation and solidarity. But it is palpable in the grassroots groups, in the multiplication of Mapuche and mixed organizations, in the notable growth of people that study Mapudungun, including many whites or “Huincas”. It is palpable in the force that was born from the earth, from very far below, and that is proving unbeatable.

The main attack on the Mapuche people is extractive forestry, which is protected and defended by the Chilean State and the government of Piñera. That model has a limit: as the last editorial of the Mapuexpress website shows, the dignity of the family and the community of Camilo Catrillanca has caused “a strong earthquake to look with greater historical and political precision at what is happening in Wallmapu”, and has generated “a powerful route for the Mapuche people”.