The Mapuche community is fighting for their rights

The native people of Argentina and Chile seek to have their laws respected by the government 

The Mapuche community is fighting for their rights

Santiago Maldonado is a 28 years old activist who disappeared last 1st of August during a protest of the Mapuche people in the province of Chubut. Maldonado was supporting the cause of the Mapuches when the military police forces of Argentina, called Gendarmería, entered the community to repress the uprising. Some sources mentioned that the Gendarmería entered with fire arms and physically hurt members of the indigenous community.

According to social activists, supporters of the Mapuches, human rights advocates, and Maldonado’s family affirm that the raid of the Gendarmería in Chubut was illega; they assure that Santiago was arrested by the military police. On the other hand, the Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said that this situation doesn't have to do with a forced disappearance and that there is no evidence of such detention. However, testimonies of the people who witnessed the situation affirm otherwise. “When the Gendarmes entered shooting, they all ran, including Santiago. They ran to the same side to hide among the vegetation and some those saw where Santiago hid. But between the shooting and the assaults, they lose sight of him and they heard that a Gendarme gave the voice of 'We have one' and soon they approach a pickup of the Gendarmería, they open the back doors and several surround the doors so nothing can’t be seen”, explained Elizabeth Gómez, specialist in indigenous law.

Some actions have been taken from the Ministry of Security to find the activist. A surprise search taken in the Gendarmería installations in the 36th squadron in the city of Esquel didn’t give any positive results. At the same time, the committee against Forced Disappearance of the UN made a call to Mauricio Macri’s government in order to guarantee “all urgent measures that are necessary to search and locate him, taking into account the data provided by the members of the Pu-Lof Mapuche community present during the repressive action”. The lack of progress in the investigation and search of Santiago lead to protests in front of Congress which that ended in riots and violent actions.

This recent situation gives insight of the struggle that the Mapuche people are living in Argentina. The Mapuches are the most numerous indigenous community in the country; there are about 113.680 people and most of them live in the region of Chubut according to data from UNICEF. Even though, the Argentinean constitution recognizes the rights of the indigenous people, reality states otherwise. 

The Argentinean government is not recognizing the right to property of land of the indigenous people.  Tension is related to the needs of the Italian company Benetton and their need of that specific land to raise sheep for textile production. The complexity of the situation has led to several evictions of the Mapuches who claim the land as their own. The brutal repression that the Mapuches had suffered for their claims has left several wounded and arrested.

The Mapuches have denounced that the evictions have led them to live in cities in overcrowded refuges; not allowing them to live up their identity. Meanwhile, the Argentinean representative of Benetton, Diego Campal, affirmed that this indigenous community doesn’t have right to claim the land because they are not native to that territory, they are from Chile. For now, the struggle over the territory continues with the law in favor of the Benetton Company while the continuation of the every day search for Santiago Maldonado becomes more distressing. 

Latin American Post | Diana Cárdenas

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto 

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