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Chile: Modern Day Human Rights for the Mapuche

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights was recently inaugurated in Santiago, Chile. The Museum documents human rights violations committed during the 1973-90 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Blogger Santiago Miró of the blog Negro Sobre Blanco [es] points out that the effort is unique in Latin America. “Hopefully other museums like this will open their doors across the region,” adds Emiliano Balerini of the blog Humanos de Derechos [es].

Museum of the Memory in Santiago. Photo by Walala Pancho and used under a Creative Commons license.

Museum of the Memory in Santiago. Photo by Walala Pancho and used under a Creative Commons license.

An interruption took place during the inauguration when two young Mapuche women shouted from a lamppost just as President Michelle Bachelet, a torture victim herself, was speaking about human rights. One of the women identified herself as Katherine Catrileo, sister of Matías Catrileo, a 22-year-old Mapuche indigenous activist, who was shot and killed by Chilean police in January 2008. The two police officers were handed a 2-year suspended sentence, in which they would serve no prison time.

The blogger TotemRac reminds his readers that human rights issues are not limited to the time period during the Pinochet dictatorship:

La parcialidad de este proyecto queda de manifiesto al reconocer Históricamente solo el periodo 1973 – 1990 … Mamá Bachelet coloco la 1ª piedra el 10 de Diciembre del 2008 dijo … que “no haya espacio para la exclusión, sea por razones políticas, religiosas, socio económicas, étnicas, de género, o de cualquier tipo, la discriminación debe ser desterrada”, bueno si no hay espacio para la Exclusión o Discriminación Política, ¿Por qué solo reconoce el periodo 1973- 1990?, o ¿los DD.HH nacieron el 11 de Septiembre de 1973 y terminaron en Diciembre de 1990?, o ¿Son solo validos los DD.HH de solo una parte de los Chilenos?

The bias of this project is demonstrated by the fact that the museum recognizes only the historical period of 1973 – 1990 … Laying the cornerstone on December 10, 2008, “Mama (Chilean President Michelle) Bachelet” said that “there is no room for exclusion, be it on political, religious, socio-economic, ethnic gender grounds, that any kind of discrimination should be banished” Well, if there is no room for a politics of exclusion or discrimination, why does only the period 1973 – 1990 receive recognition? Or were Human Rights born on September 11, 1973 and ended in December 1990, or are the Human Rights only valid for some Chileans?

It is the ongoing conflict with the Mapuche community that has been drawing attention to the issue of human rights in present-day Chile. For example, Chile holds about 50 Mapuche captive without trial for suspicion of terrorist activities. The Chilean government says it is acting in response to frequent arson attacks on trucks, violation of private property, and attacks on buses with passengers. By contrast, Mapuche leaders accuse the Chilean state of having been subjected to torture, racism, and forged evidence to incarcerate them as terrorists [es]. There have even been arrests of foreign citizens and other Chileans accused of assisting members of the Mapuche community with committing crimes.

Among the more high-profile arrests are the Basque citizen Asel Luzarraga Zarrabeitia, and the Chilean journalist and acclaimed filmmaker Elena Varela, who is being accused of charges such as assisting in the organization of two bank raids, theft with homicide, theft with violence, and illegal association with intent to commit an offense. Her trial has recently been postponed for the third time. Varela had been working on a documentary about the conflict between lumber companies, the Chilean state, and the Mapuche over the use of land.

Blogger Lucía Sepúlveda Ruiz comments on the blog by León Huarancca Quichca [es]:

El caso de Elena Varela ejemplifica asimismo las dos caras del gobierno de la Presidenta Bachelet, que por una parte premia a la artista con el FONDART 2007, el más importante concurso de fondos públicos para el cine, para el documental “Newen Mapu, mapuche, la Fuerza de la Tierra”, y por otra, la encarcela y requisa sus entrevistas a líderes de las luchas recientes por recuperación de la tierra ancestral.

The case of Elena Varela exemplifies the two faces of Bachelet’s government, which on the one hand awarded the artist with FONDART 2007, the most important film contest using public funds for cinema for the documentary “Newen Mapu, mapuche, the Force of the Earth.” and on the other hand, imprisons her and confiscates her interviews with leaders of the recent struggles to recuperate their ancestral land.

An exasperated blogger from Argentina comments on the site Kaos en la Red [es]:

O sólo se ve lo que se hace de un solo lado?? Si los atacan constantemente, si no respetan sus leyes, sus etnias, si son avasallados, llegando a encarcelar a la cineasta Elena Varela, y al escritor Asel Luzarraga, por el solo hecho de referirse a este Pueblo Originario, de defenderlos…que se puede esperar?? JUSTICIA?? Si no la hay, si solo impera la imparcialidad….Lamentablemente en mi País, tampoco se repetan a estos Pueblos, se los expulsa de todos lados, se venden laas tierras con ellos adentro. Realmente siento como Argentina una verguenza terrible de las autoridades de ambos países.

Do we see only what is done on one side? They are constantly attacked, their laws are not respected nor their ethnicity, they are overwhelmed, leading to the arrest of filmmaker Elena Varela, and writer Asel Luzarraga, for the mere fact of referring to this indigenous people, to defend them … what can be expected? JUSTICE? If there is none, if only fairness prevailed y …. Unfortunately, in my country as well, these people are expelled from all sides, the land is being sold with them still on it. As an Argentine, I really feel terribly ashamed of the authorities of both countries.

Members of the United Nations have criticized the situation, most recently a day after the Museum's inauguration. On January 12th, James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Human Rights said that there seems to be a “circle of violence” in the situation. Earlier in 2009, Anaya had remarked that it is necessary to distinguish between terrorists and delinquents [es]. Chile repeatedly invoked an anti-Terrorism law, which was signed during the Pinochet era, against Mapuche demonstrators.

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