Camilo Catrillanca murder: Chilean police terrorise indigenous communities

In the vicinity of Ercilla, in the Araucanía region in southern Chile, 24-year-old indigenous Mapuche, Camilo Catrillanca, was murdered by members of the so-called Comando Jungla of the Chilean national police. The young man, a nephew of the local Mapuche chief of Temucuicui, leaves behind his pregnant wife and a daughter of six. Camilo was driving a tractor and was accompanied by a 15-year-old minor when they were showered by bullets, one of which found its way to the back of his head. This is just one more case in the brutal history of police assassinations against the Mapuche people. The lives of dozens of youth and minors are being taken. Meanwhile, the authorities are quick to deem such incidents as “clashes”, with the police continually hindering investigations.

This is also the latest episode of a long process of militarisation in the Wallmapu (the ancestral land of the Mapuche nation), that has resulted in a series of Mapuche people being gunned down under the “democratic” regime that followed after the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. In November of 2002, Alex Lemún (17) died after being shot by police chief Marco Aurelio Treuer. The murder of Matias Catrileo was another example: he was shot by corporal Walter Ramírez during the government of Michelle Bachelet in 2008. Carabineros de Chile, the Chilean national police, act as defenders of private property, particularly protecting the land owned by logging companies. This institution just faced a criminal case of espionage and falsified evidence against a number of Mapuche people, a scandal known as Operación Huracán, that resulted in the expulsion of several high-ranking officers. This is in addition to an ongoing investigation for a 30-million-pesos fraud case (the equivalent of more than 40,000 dollars).

The right wing loses the initiative

Since the beginning, the official versions of events offered by the authorities have aroused suspicion. The language used in statements by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Andrés Chadwick, the Intendant of the Araucanía Region, Luis Mayol, and the General Director of the National Police, Hermes Soto, will seem very familiar to the generation that remembers the framings carried out under the dictatorship, and grew up watching these kinds of lies on television. The ‘tactical’ police unit moved into action after an alleged anonymous call reported a car robbery, a common crime in a country where more than 100 cars are stolen every day. Supposedly, the local police were the first to respond, the ‘Comando Jungla’ acting only after the policemen were shot at by ‘unknown men’.

Funeral of Camilo Catrillanca Image Luis HidalgoFuneral of Camilo Catrillanca / Image: Luis Hidalgo

The “Comando Jungla” is an elite unit designed to combat drug trafficking and cases of extreme violence, trained in Colombia by its “distinguished” police forces: a different context altogether from Araucanía. At least 200 policemen broke through the area, shooting indiscriminately, supported by armoured vehicles and helicopters. After killing Camilo Catrillanca, the officers arrested the minor that accompanied him, a key witness to the murder, whom they brutally beat and kept under illegal custody overnight. The General Director, Hermes Soto, said that the policemen were not carrying cameras on them. These claims were refuted by the ensuing investigation and the Human Rights Institute (INDH) after the minor’s declaration. The camera records were in fact found to have been destroyed by the policemen. To date, four officers have been accused. According to the minor’s version, sergeant Raúl Ávila had a camera on him, the recording from which was destroyed. He also claims that Ávila was responsible of the shots that ended Camilo’s life.

When people learned about the tragic news, an outcry exploded across social media, and the hashtag #RenunciaChadwick started trending globally. Protests took place in Santiago, Valparaíso, Concepción, Rancagua, Iquique, and elsewhere. On Friday, there was a demonstration organised by environmentalist groups, in connection with the struggle that the people of Quintero-Puchuncaví have been carrying out against polluting industries in the area. A few weeks ago, at the height of the movement, a local leader and fishermen union leader, Alejandro Castro, was found dead in the most suspicious of circumstances. Another, similar case was that of Macarena Valdes in 2016, her death being ruled as a ‘suicide’ at first, but thereafter the involvement of a possible third party was proved.

The protest in downtown Santiago saw thousands of participants. After the police repressed the demonstration with tear gas, barricades were built by protestors, which they maintained for many hours in several downtown locations. The following days witnessed further clashes in Temuco, Ercilla and other cities of the region. Fires of dubious origin have been reported in schools and other buildings. Unfortunately, the latter help to legitimise the idea of these areas as a ‘jungle’ and ‘danger zone’: a line that the government tries to sell us to justify its brutal repressive measures. In Santiago, there were people banging pots, demanding the removal of the minister of internal affairs and of the intendant of the Araucanía, both responsible for the repression and militarisation of the region.

Barricades in Santiago Image Luis Hidalgo and Jorge VargasThe protest in downtown Santiago saw thousands of participants. After the police repressed the demonstration with tear gas, barricades were built by protestors / Image: Luis Hidalgo and Jorge Vargas

While these events were developing, President Sebastián Piñera was absent, as he was on an official tour around southeast Asia, which allowed him to stay out of the spotlight. But the situation is delicate for the government. Piñera’s political programme identifies the region of Araucanía as one of its main focal points. Piñera proposes the ‘Plan Impulso Araucanía’, which includes many public and private entities, towards developing infrastructure, healthcare and education. While the programme envisions obtaining constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples, there is also a point about “security”, which outlines the development of new intelligence systems and an anti-terrorist force, the results of which we have just witnessed. The plan declares public investment amounting to 8 billion dollars for the period 2018-2026, projecting the economic reactivation of the Araucania: the poorest region in the country. This document was presented on 24 September by the Ministry of Social Development and the intendancy, taking only 50 days for it to be discredited, together with all its ‘good intentions’.

The government is trying to frame the problem as one of “security”, and thus justify strengthening the repressive apparatus of the state. On the matter of education, it formulated the project ‘Aula Segura’-- (‘safe classroom’): amounting to a programme of media manipulation and misinformation that criminalises children within their schools. This doesn’t bring any solution to the deep crisis of the private education model that the student movement has denounced for years. At the same time, this Mapuche ‘conflict’ cannot be resolved by militarising the region and creating an image of a narco-terrorism-ridden “jungle”, nor by reducing the matter to an issue of poverty.

The right of self-determination in Wallmapu

The following is a speech by Pelantaro, the military leader of the Mapuche during the uprising of 1598, according to the priest Juan Barba:

“Before there was memory, the Mapuche were both masters and children of the land, and in the forest, obeying the mandate of the god Admapu, they learned to treat plants as little sisters... when we needed to cut down an old tree, we planted a young one in its place, and if it was a fruit tree, we planted two, and we teach our children to respect flowers, because they are alive, and to just cut those that are open and about to fall, and our ancestors learned as well, and they taught it to us, that animals were our brothers too (...)

“Cities and forts were nailed like thorns in the land, but our people didn’t give up, and many said, ‘let us be taken as prisoners to know them from the inside, the Spanish camps, their animals and the weapons that give them their might, and to discover the weakness of the Winkas to defeat them’, and our ancestors also said ‘we must form an army far more powerful, with new weapons and with the ability to fight with new skills’ (...)

“‘All the men that the King of Spain could send will not suffice to save the cities and forts that we are taking from them, and while defeating the brave and fierce Spanish warrior, the more will the Mapuche courage will be distinguished, as it makes no one proud to defeat the weak, and by this we will punish forever their arrogance, we will beat their haughtiness, we will put an end to their greed and abuses and we will get a true peace.’”

Liceo de Ercilla en toma Image Felipe DuranThe tension between the Chilean State and the Wallmapu has increased since the Pinochet era / Image: Felipe Duran

The Mapuche nation claims the Wallmapu as its ancient territory, which includes at least 10 million hectares, land that which was acknowledged to be theirs in treaties with the Spanish during the ‘parlamentos’. These lands have been successively usurped by the Argentinian and Chilean states at the service of the creole landowner oligarchies. Archaeological and historical data proves the existence of a homogenous cultural horizon throughout the first millennia AD: a continuity of practices, organisation, philosophy and language (Mapuzungun). The later diversity of cultural practices across the territories shared one main feature: a close and dynamic relationship with the environment. Thus, the ancient history of the Wallmapu is to be found in the collective consciousness of the Mapuche people, who claim their right to self-determination on this basis.

The Mapuche people are one of the very few indigenous peoples that maintained some autonomy during the Spanish conquest, the colonial period and the formation of the creole republics. The variety of ecosystems in the Wallmapu provided for an abundance of resources and a diversified economy south of the Bio-Bio river. They had a large amount of cattle that roamed freely and were also used for barter. During the first decades of the Republic of Chile, it was the landowning oligarchy that sought to appropriate the land and cattle of the Wallmapu in order to develop the livestock-farming economy. In this way, both the ‘War of the Pacific’ (also known as Saltpeter War) and the Occupation of the Araucania in the second half of the XIX century consolidated the ruling class’s power via the Chilean State. The commercial bourgeoisie and the landowner class shared the profits created by territorial expansion to the mines in northern Chile and the land towards South.

The logging industry

With the enactment of legislative decree Number 701 in 1974 (Forestry Promotion Law), the tension between the Chilean State and the Wallmapu was exacerbated. The dictatorship drastically changed the productive relations in the region, establishing a logging model which, just as under previous logging laws, gave no autonomy to Mapuche communities. In this manner, over subsequent years, private partners have received between 75 and 90 percent subsidies for the net costs of forestry plantation, operation and administration. Also, the decree sought to revoke the process of agrarian reform in the region, legally cancelling some of the land returned to the Mapuche communities during the government of Salvador Allende. The loggers also benefited from the low price of the local workforce.

The Mapuche communities could only watch as, during the period 1976-1992, the Chilean State, through the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), gave the forestry companies 110 million dollars. The Matte and Angelini groups, the main business groups in Chile, benefited the most during these years. For example, some of the logging companies owned by the Angelini family own triple the amount of land occupied by the entirety of the Mapuche. Companies like Forestal Mininco, or CMPC of the Matte group, also form part of this monopoly.

Don’t let Piñera get away with it!

Faced with many opposition movements, the Piñera government has reacted by deepening its mercantilist attitude. To the Coordinadora No Más AFP, demands the end of privatised pensions and called for a national demonstration last month, Piñera answered by proposing a reform that entrenches the current pensions system (that currently provides 79 percent of pensions to those earning under the minimum wage, and 44 percent to those under poverty line). This system was developed by his brother José Piñera, appointed Minister of Labour during the Pinochet’s dictatorship. The president has justified the actions of the national police, and reaffirmed his confidence in both the minister of internal affairs and the intendant of the Araucania region. The right wing, aided by some evangelical churches, has grown electorally in poor, southern districts that historically offered majority support to the left and the Communist Party. This provides the president’s reactionary base of support.

Vice President Andrés Chadwick and Minister of the Interior Ubilla Image EMOLVice President Chadwick and Minister of the Interior Ubilla / Image: EMOL

The repressive agenda that the government has displayed on many fronts has increased radicalisation among wide layers of society, who are sick of the corrupt capitalist status quo. The capitalists and oligarchs have made a business out of education, healthcare, pensions, housing and exploiting the environment. It is not surprising that thousands of people now question the capitalist system itself, which puts the right to private property for a minority before the natural world and human lives. In spite of the governments’ intransigence, support for the Mapuche communities has extended to diverse layers, putting the government in a serious impasse.

In this situation, we have seen the real character of a state that serves the interests of the capitalists first and foremost. A reactionary alliance between the armed forces, media, businessmen, and landowners prevailed for decades in the region. This alliance was sealed during the dictatorship, which incubated a repressive machinery that was continued during the governments of the Concertacion in the post-dictatorship period. This rotten state is derived from a system based on inequality: there is no reform or agreement that could change this historical legacy. The current government is little more than the respectable wing of the dictatorship. These ‘suit and tie criminals’ are nostalgic for authoritarianism and long to revive it. The generations that inherited Pinochet’s anti-democratic constitution cannot endure more injustices. The more experienced generations remember the sacrifices made to end the dictatorship and must join the mobilisations. Unfortunately, there is no reform that can truly console the pain of the abominable crimes committed against the indigenous people. Only in the light of concrete actions and united mobilisation of the exploited and oppressed will we prove our methods of struggle as the way towards a new society.

Liceo de Ercilla en toma Image Camilo TapiaTo move forward with a revolutionary perspective of class independence, it is indispensable that workers recognise the importance of winning all the demands of the Mapuche communities / Image: Camilo Tapia

To move forward with a revolutionary perspective of class independence, it is indispensable that workers recognise the importance of winning all the demands of the Mapuche communities. For this, it is necessary for every worker, women and student organisation to call for mobilisation from below. If we are never again to mourn the death of a young Mapuche, an environmentalist activist, a union leader or a student, we must demand the immediate dissolution of the Comando Jungla, the demilitarisation of the Wallmapu, and the recognition of every social and political right for the Mapuche nation.