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Indigenous Rights

Children Injured in Police Crackdown on Chile’s Mapuche Indians

Children in the doorway of a “ruca”, a traditional Mapuche dwelling in Temocuicui, the epicentro of the violence. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

SANTIAGO, Jul 27 2012 (IPS) - “We have been trampled by this racist Chilean state, which oppresses us. The police force represses all Mapuche people…they shoot at us in cold blood.”

This comment came from a 16-year-old boy describing a police crackdown of which he and other native peasant farmers were victims in the region of Araucanía, 680 km south of Santiago, during an eviction of several indigenous communities occupying land that they claim as their ancestral property.

“That is how children in communities involved in land conflicts feel, because they have grown up in the midst of violence,” Ana Cortés, the head of the ANIDE children’s rights foundation, told IPS.

“The adolescent who gave this account belongs to a community that for years has been trying to recover territory that would make it possible for them to survive and make a living. Racism and repression are all he has known from the state, as reflected by what he says,” she added.

This complaint about police repression published by the Mapuche language on-line daily Werken offers concrete testimony of the escalation of violence over the last few days, in which a dozen people were arrested and several were injured, including five children.

The conflict broke out on Monday Jul. 23, when residents of Temucuicui, a Mapuche community, were evicted by Carabineros police from the La Romana and Montenegro forestry plantations, where the Mininco and Arauca logging companies operate.

According to indigenous spokespersons, the native demonstrators were holding a peaceful protest and occupation to draw attention to the government of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera’s failure to live up to promises made in the context of the long-running Mapuche struggle for the recuperation of their ancestral land.

The land, they say, forms part of the territory that was seized from their ancestors in the second half of the 19th century during a military invasion process known as the “pacification of Araucanía”.

The Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous group, number nearly one million in this country of over 16 million people. The struggle for their rights to what they claim as their ancestral lands in the south of the country has frequently spilled over into violence, as they clash with extractive industries and logging companies.

Monday’s occupation was carried out by some 60 members of the Mapuche community. But some 200 police were sent in to evict the families, using tear gas and shooting both pellets and shotgun bullets, according to witnesses.

Twelve people, including three minors, were arrested, and denounced that they were the victims of abuses, beatings, and sexual harassment by the Carabineros.

The repression continued a few hours later outside the hospital in the nearby community of Collipulli, where police opened fire on a group of Mapuche people who were waiting for the demonstrators being treated for their injuries.

A 12-year-old girl was shot in the back with pellets, and a 16-year-old boy was hit in the head with rubber bullets.

The attack prompted President Piñera to announce an investigation into the role of the Carabineros in the incident, although he emphasised that his government “supports the police action 100 percent.”

According to the Anide Foundation, between 2001 and 2011, Mapuche children between nine months and 16 years of age have been the target of rubber bullets, pellets, tear gas, and beatings by the police.

And a 17-year-old boy was even killed in a 2002 police crackdown.

“We have stated many times that the violence towards Mapuche children is not an exception but is becoming the rule,” Cortés said. “In each raid, three or four minors under 18 are injured, and we cannot say, as the government does, that these are isolated incidents.”

The activist added that the uptick in violence in Mapuche territory in southern Chile is worrisome, and said it was due to the lack of solutions for the deeper underlying problems faced by the communities.

She said the measures proposed by the government, which announced early this week that police reinforcements were being sent to the area, were focused on achieving “internal security” rather than on addressing the reasons behind the longstanding conflict.

“I don’t see any attempts to reach out to the communities in conflict, to negotiate a political solution. Until that happens, social mobilisations are going to continue, in which people are injured, many of them minors,” she added.

The decision to beef up the police presence in the area was reached at a special security meeting held by Piñera Tuesday in the government palace to discuss the Mapuche conflict. According to activists, the move reflects the government’s determination to militarise the area.

“When the government starts to look for reasons to repress the communities without tackling the political issues underlying the conflict, it is because it has lost its direction with respect to state policy towards indigenous people,” Mapuche lawyer Lautaro Loncón commented to IPS.

He pointed out that Chile is a signatory to several international treaties on human rights and children’s rights, and in particular to International Labour Organisation Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples.

Loncón said that “when it comes to crafting public policies, the government focuses more on repression than on implementing these conventions.”

The increase in violence “has to do with the long-time stance of the Chilean political right with respect to social and indigenous movements,” he maintained.

“The Piñera administration has criminalised social protest, not only involving the Mapuche, but any movement that might question its neoliberal policies,” he said.

The lawyer said that “the government and the institutions of the state have historically had a racist attitude, which is based on the denial of the existence of indigenous people and of their rights. It is simply racism, which Chilean society has never acknowledged or addressed.”

The director of the government’s National Human Rights Institute, Lorena Fríes, travelled to the area on Wednesday Jul. 25 as part of an observers’ mission, and plans to produce a report in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, condemned the acts of violence that affected children.

And leaders of the opposition Party for Democracy urged Amerigo Incalcaterra, regional representative for South America for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send an observer to the Mapuche conflict zone.

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