TIRÚA – The Mapuche conflict is only the tip of the iceberg for violence in southern Chile. Following the attack on reporters Iván Núñez and Esteban Sánchez, Mapuche leader Héctor Llaitul pointed to logging company Forestal Mininco as responsible for the incident. Lumber and real estate businesses, indigenous communities, and the Chilean state are just some of the players in this sprawling conflict.
The attack that left journalist Iván Núñez and cameraman Esteban Sánchez injured still hasn’t been attributed to anyone. Indigenous leader of the Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), Héctor Llaitul, whom Núñez and Sánchez were going to interview, blames the attack on logging company Forestal Mininco, which is owned by multinational paper company CMPC. Political authorities, however, blame CAM. The complex situation in La Araucanía has several players with very different interests.
Chilean authorities constantly monitor indigenous organization CAM and its activities. Llaitul told Radio Universidad de Chile that Forestal Mininco is responsible for the attack on the press: “this is something that has been going on for a while now, Forestal Mininco’s direct intervention and meddling … by co-opting or buying [indigenous] leaders, and they have people working for them. In their lands and usurped territories, as well as internally in the communities.”
Aggression between Mapuche groups and the Chilean state dates back to the occupation of La Araucanía by the Chilean government in 1861. Since then, the state handed land to latifundistas (landowners) to build farms and hence incorporate the lands into Chilean territory. This led to the fragmentation of Mapuche communities, which at the same time were subject to the usurpation of their historical lands. During Pinochet’s dictatorship, 69,984 land grants were given to indigenous groups, but with the arrival of private companies, more problems arose, as developers hungry for arable land occupied indigenous lands, reigniting the historical Mapuche conflict.
CAM is one of the most well-known indigenous organizations in La Araucanía. Their objective is the revindication and occupation of historically Mapuche lands, and the establishment of a Mapuche state. Several arson attacks have been attributed to CAM, as well as direct confrontations with police and landowners.
In the interview with Radio Universidad de Chile, Llaitul reiterated that CAM wasn’t involved in the attack on the press in Tirúa on Mar. 27.
In September 2017, Llaitul and seven other CAM members were arrested by police for alleged illegal terrorist activities, called Operación Huracán (Operation Hurricane). An intelligence arm of Carabineros produced a report containing WhatsApp conversations that linked CAM leaders to several arson attacks that took place in 2017. However, an investigation revealed that it was all a set-up by police. Police director general Bruno Villalobos consequently resigned.
CAM has actively targeted Forestal Mininco and latifundistas. In October 2011, CAM set ablaze Arauco governor Flor Weisse’s summer home, though no fatalities were reported.
Differences within CAM leaders led to the formation of the more radical Weichán Auka Mapu (WAM) in 2011, which also participated in attacks on Forestal Mininco.
The All-Lands’ Council
The All-Lands’ Council (Consejo de Todas las Tierras) is a Mapuche organization led by Aucán Huilcamán, which seeks the creation of a Mapuche state combining Argentinean and Chilean territories. Huilcamán has worked closely with several Chilean governments for the integration of indigenous communities, but the group’s objective is self-determination for the Mapuche people.
Weichán Auka Mapu (WAM)
Formed in 2011 as a radical faction of the CAM, the smaller WAM also aspires to the liberation of historically Mapuche territories, opposing the Chilean state, private companies and latifundistas. The WAM participated in the fire attacks on 29 trucks belonging to Forestal Mininco in 2016, and also burned down several churches in La Araucanía the same year.
The Chilean State
Historically, Chile has never addressed the Mapuche conflict cohesively. Since its inception, the state did not consider indigenous communities as part of the population, although the 2017 census revealed that at least 12.7 percent of the country’s population identifies as indigenous.
Because of the organization of Mapuche communities, the Chilean state struggles to negotiate with them, as some of the indigenous groups diverge and thus, negotiations cannot be sustained in the long term. This issue calls for the state to take charge and recognize the Mapuche people and other indigenous communities to give them the political representation they need. The Constitutional Convention process includes reserved seats for indigenous groups, which will be a starting point for them to seek more representation in the new constitution.
More recently, the Chilean government resorted to the militarization of the region to “control” violent outbreaks; however, the result has not been favorable. Additionally, the country’s anti-terrorist law has been applied to Mapuche-related incidents continuously since 2001. The United Nations has urged Chile to amend the law, while the Inter-American Court of Human Rights revoked eight sentences to Mapuche activists in 2014 on terrorism grounds.
Carabineros de Chile
Chile’s national police force (the Carabineros) has been heavily involved in the conflict. In 2018, police officer Carlos Alarcón shot dead Mapuche man Camilo Catrillanca in Temucuicui amid a special forces operation. The official report by police indicated that Catrillanca was involved in a robbery incident they investigated; this version was denied by Temuicuici residents, who insisted that police opened fire unprovoked. Ultimately, Carabineros perverted the course of justice in the Catrillanca case. Police also obstructed judicial proceedings during Operación Huracán in 2017.
Police and military presence in the region has exacerbated violent outbreaks. In 2020, police officer Sebastián Naín died during an ambush near Temuco. The Piñera administration resorted to increasing the number of armored vehicles and troops in the area, adopting a more hostile attitude to the conflict.
Chile’s Prosecution Service
Juan Yáñez is the local prosecutor in La Araucanía for rural violence in Tirúa and Cañete. Yáñez, who has been in the job for over six years, told Radio Biobío that the main issue that prosecutors face are eyewitnesses. Regarding the attack on Núñez and Sánchez, Yáñez said that “once again we will face situations where the Public Ministry has witnesses that say they saw something, but then didn’t see it … that it was this, then that it wasn’t, and so on, and this excessively complicates the investigation.”
The prosecutor added that witnesses often choose not to speak because they are scared that other groups will retaliate, but that the only way for investigations to move forward is with witnesses and evidence.
Lumber company Forestal Mininco and many others play an important role in the Mapuche conflict, as some have used indigenous lands for their business interests, contravening the indigenous community’s way of life regarding the environment. Llaitul accuses lumber companies of “buying” Mapuche people to turn against the indigenous movement.
On Sep. 10, 2020, Chile’s investigative police allegedly arrested Nora and Gricel Ñancul without a warrant and verbally and physically assaulted the women. The Ñancul sisters have long opposed Forestal Mininco’s illegal land occupations, and believe their arrest was in retaliation for their pro-Mapuche activism.
In early 2019, a Mapuche group blocked road access to the company’s vehicles after unfulfilled promises made by Mininco. Moreover, an indigenous community in Ercilla was evicted from what a court ruled was Mininco property.
Forestal Mininco produces timber, plants, and other by-products. Logging takes water resources from surrounding Mapuche communities, and consequently causes droughts, damaging their crops. In response, Mapuche activists sometimes engage in arson attacks to cause bushfires as an attempt to affect the forestry industry’s profits.
Asociación Para la Paz y la Reconciliación en La Araucanía
The Association for Peace and Reconciliation in La Araucanía (APRA) is a civil organization that offers support to victims of attacks in the region. The group strongly opposes the Mapuche movement. Indigenous communities filed lawsuits against APRA for inciting hate and xenophobia against the Mapuche in November 2020.
APRA uses social media to promote its agenda, and its support for the Rechazo movement ahead of the constitutional referendum in 2020 reveals links to far-right political groups. APRA’s involvement in the Mapuche conflict does not foster peace in the region.