Violent attacks in Southern Macrozone increased by 169 percent last month

A report by the Federation of La Auracanía Guilds mentions a 169 percent increase in attacks since the end of the State of Emergency in the Southern Macrozone. The Federation believes that most of these attacks have been perpetrated by various armed paramilitary groups, although this statement is hard to verify. Interior Undersecretary Manuel Monsalve has vowed to find solutions to make the area safer without reinstating repressive military measures.

A recent report released by the Federation of La Auracanía Guilds shows that attacks in the Southern Macrozone, which comprises the Central South regions of La Araucanía, Los Ríos, Los Lagos, and Biobío, have increased by 169 percent since the end of the constitutional State of Emergency on Mar. 26, 2022, with 70 violent crimes reported in the area since, 38 of which took place in the Biobío region.

“These were expected data, because if 2,000 military personnel are withdrawn from an area where there is violence, it is logical that this will happen,” said President of the Federation Patricio Santibáñez in an interview with El Mercurio.

When it comes to the types of crime committed, arson attacks increased by 106 percent and armed attacks by 650 percent. Santibáñez said he believed that most of them were perpetrated by paramilitary groups such as the Arauco-Malleco Coordinator (CAM) and smaller, more violent groups such as Weichan Auka Mapu (WAM). However, the only attacks as to which this statement could be verified were those that were clearly claimed by one of these groups, often by the group leaving certain posters or pamphlets on the site of the incident.

But the CAM does not wish to be associated with these other armed groups, as they maintain that they do not use the same violent methods. “The CAM cannot be put in the same sack as all the other groups. We have nothing to do with actions where lives were lost. We have been very clear about this. Since the creation of the CAM more than 23 years ago, we have taken only direct actions and territorial recovery processes against forestry companies, hydroelectric companies, or other capitalist investment interests,” the leader of CAM Hector Llaitul told Al Jazeera.

Reclaiming ancestral land

The Mapuche refer to the Southern Macrozone territory — along with part of Argentina on the other side of the Andes — as their ancestral “Wallmapu” land. The term signifies “men of the earth” in the Mapuzugun language, and until around 150 years ago the area was entirely indigenous territory. In a series of military expansion campaigns from 1861 to 1883, the Chilean army expropriated the Mapuche people from this land and plunged them into poverty. Throughout the 20th century, and most severely during the Pinochet dictatorship, the elimination of communal land ownership and the subsidized sale of Mapuche lands further perpetuated the alienation of Mapuche communities.

The confrontation between the state and the Mapuche in the Southern Macrozone has always existed, but it has escalated in recent years, as a new generation of Mapuche has come forward with the objective of reclaiming their land and autonomy.

Most of the land in this area is now owned and exploited by forestry companies, which leave very little of it to the local indigenous communities. The benefits extracted from exploiting this land are practically never shared with the Mapuche, so a number of armed groups started carrying out attacks against companies and large farming estates by destroying their equipment, trucks and property.

An unsafe environment

There have however also been recent instances where small Chilean farms have been targeted and non-indigenous Chilean civilians were attacked or killed, events that had very rarely taken place in the past. There has also been a growing number of arson attacks on homes and shootouts with fatalities in the last year, making the area highly unsafe for local residents.

The conservative Piñera government chose a repressive approach by placing the entire Southern Macrozone under a State of Emergency with military control. But the militarized special police forces deployed to deal with the clashes were often accused of abusing their power and committing human rights abuses, as well as killing unarmed Mapuche.

The Boric administration then decided to lift the measure and send senior officials on-site to start a dialogue instead. Nevertheless, during her visit to the area, Interior Minister Izkia Siches was still met with bullets in Araucanía, proof that the new government was not welcomed either. Her trip had to be diverted and certain planned talks had to be canceled or postponed.

Most Mapuche communities in Chile do not support a full separation from the Chilean state. Instead, they aspire to more autonomy through self-government and the recognition of their language and traditional authorities. “I can say very responsibly that 70 percent of the Mapuche people embrace the institutional solution. The more hardline, radical sectors … are a minority,” Mapuche writer Pedro Cayuqueo told Al Jazeera.

Local deputies called on the government to reinstate the State of Emergency as soon as possible and go forth with dialogue from there. Undersecretary Monsalve responded by saying that “there is always a debate regarding the State of Exception versus the absence of a State of Exception. I want to say that the main problem behind crimes of this nature is the presence of organized crime …. Criminal organizations are a threat to the security of people, we cannot allow them to take control of the territories.” 

After convening an emergency police committee in light of a recent increase in the frequency of attacks, he concluded that “we understand that we must strengthen the capacity of the government in the territory, to face severe problems. And therefore, it is appropriate to make decisions to guarantee it.” What remains to be seen is the form which these decisions will take.

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