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AFAENAC Association des Familles Adoptives d'Enfants Nés Au Chili

Chile’s Police Treatment Of Mapuche Youth Denounced To UNICEF

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15-year-old Patricio Queipul remains in hiding for fear of discriminatory treatment


Two Mapuche and human rights groups met this week with UNICEF, the international organization dedicated to protecting children, to denounce the treatment of Mapuche youth in southern Chile.

The Autonomous Mapuche Community of Temucuicui (La Comunidad Mapuche Autónoma de Temucuicui) and the Association for the Liberty and Defense of Human Rights, LIBERAR (la Agrupación para la Libertad y la defensa de los Derechos Humanos) specifically raised the case of 15-year-old Patricio Queipul Millanao, who is currently in hiding because of his alleged involvement in a 2008 attack and burning of a forestry truck.

The advocacy groups said that if Queipul were to return to his home or school, the police would arrest him and he would receive an unfair trial because of his Mapuche heritage.  Mapuche “terrorists” are often tried under the Pinochet-era anti-terrorist law that limits a defendant’s rights to a fair hearing and which extends prison sentences, they said.

The two groups told UNICEF that Mapuche youth in the southern Chile are regularly targeted inappropriately by the police and they listed a number of cases of student arrests, oftentimes, said the groups, to be interrogated about the locations of fugitive community members.  These interrogations are sometimes violent and oftentimes occur during school hours or while students are on their way home from school. Their report to UNICEF also mentioned three Mapuche youth currently in juvenile detention centers, two allegedly involved in “terrorism” cases.  

The two groups also updated UNICEF on the Queipul case, which has already been reported to the UN Committee against Torture and Amnesty International. The update included two incidents in which Queipul was shot and one in which he was “threatened with firearms, beaten, blindfolded, interrogated, touched and threatened with rape, and finally abandoned 15km from his home.”

The report is one of many made to international organizations claiming human rights abuses towards Mapuche in Chile.

The Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group. A 2002 census by the National Statistics Institute (INE) showed that about 4% of Chile’s population identifies as itself as Mapuche, and that the Mapuche make up about 90% of Chile’s indigenous population. Almost one third of Chile’s Mapuche live in La Araucanía (Region IX), around Temuco, and slightly less come from the Metropolitan Region (R.M.).

Queipul comes from Region IX and is part of the Temucuicui Community in the county (comuna) of Ercilla. Recently, there have been a number of violent conflicts between police and Mapuche groups in the northern part of the region known as Malleco, which includes Ercilla. The region is one of the poorest in Chile, with unemployment reaching 17% in some areas of Malleco (ST,
Sept. 6, 2009).

A report by Human Rights Watch entitled “Undue Process: Terrorism Trials, Military Courts, And The Mapuche In Southern Chile” sheds light on the history and background of the current conflict.

Up until the 1870s and 1880s, the Mapuche controlled most of southern Chile and Argentina. But after their defeat by Chile and Argentina, they were relocated to communal reserves (“reducciones”). During the 20th century, much of their “reducciones” land was divided up and sold, especially during the military dictatorship Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). Following the dictatorship, the Concertación government worked to buy back land to return to Mapuche groups.

The Washington D.C. based think tank “Center on Hemispheric Affairs" noted that “Despite the new government’s efforts to compensate some families with land, the plots were small and the soil was infertile. As the Pinochet regime implemented free market policies, the price of agricultural products began to decline. This was detrimental to many Mapuche who relied on farming as a source of income and a means of subsistence.”

“Furthermore, the expanding forestry industry in southern Chile resulted in the degradation of Mapuche ancestral lands. Over time, water resources have dried up and caused permanent droughts. The water that remains has grown contaminated due to excessive use of pesticides and herbicides. Native plants were replaced with invasive foreign species that had been originally introduced for their commercial utility” (ST,
Sept. 21, 2009).

Conflicts have continued for decades and in 2002 the government began applying an antiterrorism law that had been passed by Pinochet’s government in 1984. The law has been a major point of criticism by human rights groups. The law permits the jailing of suspects for up to a year without formal charges. The law has also been criticized for a disproportionate punishment of arson.

A report released Tuesday by Amnesty International quoted the leader of a Mapuche group, who summarized the importance of the Queipul case: “The state of Chile is violating the fundamental rights of our children in a systematic way and has not denounced the crimes that are committed with impunity.”

By Benjamin Schneider