Two deaths, two victims at different times but in near similar circumstances, the eviction of Mapuche communities and a conflict going on behind the scenes that has left a mark on the South American country this year.
The case of the disappearance of the young Santiago Maldonado, who went to support the insurgent Pu Lof community in Cushamen, in the province of Chubut, dominated politics for almost four months in the country and made the news abroad.
The news broke a few days after the events of 1 August when the 28-year-old tattoo artist living in El Bolsón went to support the Mapuche of Cushamen who, by order of a judge, were contained on Route 40.
It was not the first time that this ethnic group had endured an incident of this type; it was just that the case of Maldonado made the conflict much more visible.
The native community has been fighting since March 2015 to recover a plot of almost one million hectares belonging to the powerful Italian businessman Carlos Benetton in the Argentinian region of Patagonia.
Maldonado became the victim of a sad and disturbing episode the repercussions of which are still being felt: an ongoing case that to date is still being investigated as an enforced disappearance with the police as possible suspects.
The relatives of Maldonado lived through hours, then days and finally almost two months of anguish, in a difficult episode in which the same judge who ordered the eviction was in charge of the case until his dismissal; and 78 days later, the young man was found floating in the Chubut river, very close to where he was last seen.
Thousands of people spilled out onto the streets to express their discontent over the disappearance of Maldonado and appealed en masse for the resignation of the Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich; and pointed a harsh finger of blame at the Government for her actions.
His relatives are still mourning him and demanding justice and truth as they fight to resume the examination of outstanding evidence (such as witness statements and a re-enactment of the events) in the case which for them is vital in shedding light on the disappearance and subsequent death of the young man.
After more than a month examining the body found in the cold river waters, the autopsy revealed that the cause of death was drowning with hypothermia as a contributing factor, although it is still not clear how long he was at that location.
It has also not been determined how and when death occurred. What is clear though, for many, is that he died fleeing bullets during the eviction operation.
On 25 May, the same day the funeral of Maldonado took place in the province of Buenos Aires, after three months of anguish, another news item made the headlines again plunging the Mapuche community into mourning.
In the southernmost part of Argentina, a tragic event took place: the death of a 21-year-old young man during an eviction in Río Negro.
Rafael Nahuel, a Mapuche of humble origins unwittingly became the victim of a confrontation between the security forces and members of the Lake Mascardi Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu community which is fighting to recover land located in the Nahuel Huapi National Park. His life was extinguished after he was shot in the back during the events and his death generated a wave of indignation and resounding protest on the part of natives and champions of human rights.
The events took place when members of the Naval Prefecture of Villa Mascardi tried to forcibly evict the Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu community in an episode that ended with gunfire and forced the Mapuches to seek refuge in the hills.
Two days later conflict returned and a bullet entered through Nahuel’s left buttock damaging organs and causing death as a result of internal bleeding.
The Government insisted that the incident concerned a confrontation and added that in the south of the country ‘there have been more than 70 incidents of violence that lead us to conclude that we are dealing with violent groups which have escalated the situation, do not respect the law, do not acknowledge the State, Constitution or the representative figures of democracy, that consider themselves the authoritative powers that be and that they may govern with a rule of law different to that observed by the rest of Argentinians.’
The Minister of Security said that what happened in Río Negro allows for an absolutely clear distinction to be drawn between those indigenous peoples who have managed to settle issues concerning land for many years and these groups that do not protest but have resorted to violence as their preferred form of political action.
The land business
2017 has been hard for the native communities, which finally, after a hard battle, managed to get Congress to extend by a further four years the territorial emergency law that prohibits the eviction of these ancestral groups on land occupied by them.
Passed 11 years ago, the law was to expire on 23 November and even led to native groups camping out in front of Congress for several weeks awaiting its extension.
According to what was newly passed, any kind of legal action aimed at depriving native peoples of lands where they are settled is prohibited until 2021. But despite this, the problem persists.
According to the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI), there are 1,532 indigenous communities identified in the National Indigenous Territorial Survey Programme. The law has been instigated in just 459 (30 percent) of them.
In a recent statement, the Consultative and Participatory Council of Indigenous Peoples of the southerly nation noted that the two cases – those of Maldonado and Nahuel which took place in the midst of enforced evictions – lay the way open for several debates that cannot be put off which demand clarification on some of the central issues that are at the source of these conflicts.
The organisation underlines that territorial rights have a legal status, and the claims of the Mapuche communities have their basis in the constitutional right to indigenous community property.
Over the last decade it has been evident that the State has failed to comply with its obligation to guarantee and enforce these indigenous rights, as established in the previously mentioned territorial emergency law and its recent extension.
The organization points out that the unjustified delays in the technical land registry surveys of territory claimed by the natives, together with the evictions that are going on behind the scenes, is creating a climate of uncertainty that is sabotaging a final solution to the conflict.
“No mention has been made, deliberately, of the fact that the lands claimed by indigenous communities have courted remarkable economic interest, marked by the expansion of the mining, real estate and tourism industries there, making them assets competed over by both national and international companies,” the organisation added.
It emphasized in its press release that since the end of 2015 the situation for these indigenous communities as well as peasants claiming their right to land has worsened. (PL)
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org)