On January 10th, 2017 the Mapuche community disputing territory with the textile industry, Benetton, suffered an onslaught by police officials. The indigenous community Puel Mapu in the town Cushamen in the Argentine province of Chubut was brutally attacked.
Amnesty International claims this attack was completely disproportionate, as the gendarmerie and their weapons were being fired at a defenseless population. Roughly five members of the community attempted to defend themselves with stones. Several community members describe that:
“…too many troup started coming down, around 300. They made their way to our territory. We practiced the self-defense that we’re used to, as our legitimate right to defend ourselves and defend the community. They attacked us with bullets and we defended ourselves with stones for an almost fifteen minute confrontation. Then we began to retreat because there were so many, and they started a hunt in the camp. We ran with horses, on foot, they fired at us from everywhere. To save our lives we jumped into the river and we swam across. Those who didn’t cross we’re attacked, the children, the women, there they were.”
Testimony from community members.
This operation was performed under judicial order from the federal judge Guido Otranto, by which at least 200 members of the national gendarmerie, dependent on the National Ministry of Security lead by Patricia Bullrich, entered the territory with the motive to remove roadblocks on the train tracks.
They arrested at least seven people and there were serious injuries and both physical and psychological assaults toward women, children, and the elderly.
“When we could tell we weren’t going to be able to make them leave, we, the mothers, ran to stay with the children. We ran into the big house and we locked the door because they were running after us…they surrounded the house, the kids were very scared. My son (six years old) has been through this a few times. They destroyed the door, they put the children on one side and us on another. We defended our children. The first to enter were policemen that beat us with sticks. They sprayed fire extinguishers with us so that we would choke. Then the gendarmes got in, the women, they started to take us out, three of them pulled me, they pulled the lamien, they threw them on the floor. There was a lamien who had her baby (three years old), and a gendarme came in pulled her out by her hair”.
Testimony from community member.
The already critical situation was worsened due to the blocked entry of ambulances, and injured victims were refused Esquel Hospital and had to be transported to medical centers in other nearby cities.
Why is the Mapuche Community being attacked?
The police attack against the Mapuche community that disputed territory with Benetton has a long history. Cushamen is ancestral territory of a Mapuche community, which has been disputed for the past two years with the Benetton textile industry.
Mapuche territory is not for sale!
According to the business magazine América Economía, the italian industry, Benetton owned around 900,000 hectares of the Argentine Patagonia, specifically dedicated to the raising of sheep for wool production. The italian company has since been sued by Mapuche communities that were illegally removed and displaced from their ancestral territory by the Tierras del Sud Argentina (CTSA) company, from whom Benetton acquired these territories. The Mapuche simply ask for 536 hectares.
The conflict become worse when a Mapuche family occupied Santa Rosa territory and were sued by Benetton for usurpation. Since then, the efforts for displacement have been permanent and this is the third violent attack. Under political pressure, the italian company has offered to donate land to the community, but they haven’t accepted and are demanding the restitution of their ancestral territory.
“…A conflict that has a trajectory lasting several months. There have been been dialogue tables on two occasions, during the third one the table was broken…so we asked for judicialization of the community…it’s been a two year long recovery process throughout which we’ve been calling people from the government, they refuse not to continue the conversation with us.”
Testimony from community member.
The motive that gendarmerie maintained for this type of interruption was to remove trunks that blocked the La trochita train tracks, currently used for touristic activities and that also pass through the disputed Mapuche territory. The indigenous community members ask that they be informed each time the train is going to pass through their community land, but without any other offers, the government unilaterally withdrew from the dialogue.
Protests in support of the Mapuche
The police attack against the Mapuche community that disputed territory with Benetton was followed by mobilization in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. There were protests in front of the Casa de Chubut to demonstrate support for the community. Hundreds of activists, members of other indigenous communities, and cultural groups gathered together.
There was a delegation of protesters and Chubut government representatives who promised to bring the message of repudiation before governor Mario das Neves.
On both sides of the mountain range
In both Argentina and Chile, the Mapuche people have lived a long history of fighting for the restitution of their ancestral lands. In Chile, there are predominantly large companies from the energy and agriculture sectors, whereas in Argentina the community faces issues with Benetton and Joe Lewis.
The sixty year old spiritual leader or Machi, Francisca Linconao, was arrested in the context of these disputes, being charged under the antiterrorist law by which she could face a long jail stay even before being charged. Testimonies from anonymous witnesses were also accepted.
For the Mapuche people, land isn’t sold because on it exists sources of life like water, forests, mountains, swamps, rivers, and extensive biodiversity, of which the community sees itself as a guardian. The fight against the large companies is intensifying, because it doesn’t just threaten their lifestyle, rather the very existence of their communities and culture.
On behalf of the World Conscious Pact, we stand in solidarity with ancestral communities who teach us how to defend territory.