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By Darío Aranda
Indigenous communities and academics warn of a media and judicial offensive against the Mapuches, which seeks to "prove" that they come from Chile to deny them rights to Argentine lands. The outpost against the Mapuche people appears in a context of growing demand for their rights (with the corresponding increase in conflict), the request for the prosecution of social movements and the recent murder of a member of the Diaguita people in Tucumán.
The Mapuche debate
The Mapuches come from Chile. The Mapuches killed the Tehuelches, who were indigenous
Argentines, good and helpful. The Mapuches have no rights to the territories they occupied. The three axes make up the argumentative chain used in the Campaign to the Desert, which was retaken insistently in recent months by the large ranchers gathered in the Rural Society and the media that are related to it to demand repression against the claims of the original towns. The academic world, which on the basis of strong evidence had closed the debate, reacted first with rejection and then with concern. "The Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the UBA repudiates the appearance of journalistic articles that discredit the preexistence of the original Mapuche people, ignoring current legislation and the scientific production of recent decades," denounces a statement from the Board of Directors of that house of studies. The outpost against the Mapuche people appears in a context of growing demand for their rights (with the corresponding increase in conflict), the request for the prosecution of social movements and the recent murder of a member of the Diaguita people in Tucumán.
Crecencio Pilquimán is 73 years old and always lived in the Cerro Bayo area, in the inhospitable Chubut desert. He is a member of the Lagunita Salada, Gorro Frigio and Cerro Bayo aboriginal community. In 2007 he had to go to court because the Autarchic Colonization Institute (IAC) had given community fields to a rancher in the area. As the National Constitution, the Provincial Constitution and ILO Convention 169 make clear, the community should have been consulted before deciding on any measure that may affect it. But he was not even informed.
There was a first measure favorable to the community, but then the Justice rejected the amparo action, despite showing that there was a cemetery on the property where their ancestors lay. The case reached the Supreme Court of Justice, which has not yet been issued. But what was particular and worrying was that the rancher's lawyer, Eduardo Zabaleta, relied on the supposed “Chileanness” of the Mapuche people to deny them the right to their territory. He used as a source and hired as an expert the Patagonian historian Rodolfo Casamiquela, a reference to the theory of invading Mapuche and murderers.
"The particularity of the case is the use of an erroneous argument, widely disseminated as true in public opinion, but refuted by history and anthropology, which seeks to demonize the Mapuche people and take away from them rights stipulated in the Magna Carta and supranational treaties", explained Eduardo Hualpa, a lawyer specialized in indigenous law and defender of Pilquimán.
The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén (CMN) is today the target of certain media and ranchers. At the forefront of the offensive is the businessman Carlos “Nuno” Sapag (brother of the governor of Neuquén, Jorge Sapag), an active member of the Rural Society. “They are backed by members of the FARC and ETA terrorists who are in Chile. They have weapons and are financed by drug trafficking, ”Sapag said in a request. The only proof was an article in the conservative Chilean daily El Mercurio.
The Mapuche Confederation reported that the communities face 32 criminal cases (with more than 150 defendants), it warned about "institutionalized racial discrimination", the lack of land titling, the advance of extractive companies, compulsory evictions and growing criminalization.
“The fundamental reason for this media persecution is because the Mapuche people want to expose the fraudulent and illegal way in which they have appropriated indigenous land, misnamed 'public land', where private speculators have had the complicity of public bodies. A pact with the State is urgent to generate territorial restitution, "said Jorge Nahuel, spokesman for the Confederation. Given the sustained action of these media, the Confederation released a statement. “They invent us disoriented, alien, distant. In Chile they say that we are from Argentina, that we invaded them. In Argentina they repeat that we are from Chile. Such transmigration took place when neither Chile nor Argentina had been born ”, they explain and compare:“ Nobody asks the multinational mining and oil companies that loot us for explanations about their origins and the laws protect them effectively ”.
In the controversial and unresolved Pilquimán case, the Court did not rule on the historical fact, but requested scientific expertise from the Anthropology and Archeology Unit of the National Patagonian Center (Cenpat), represented by its director, Julio Vezub. "The archaeological, historical and ethnographic record documents the millenary settlement of the Patagonian interior (...) and the ethnic and family continuity between the actors (indigenous community) and the historical occupation, prior to the expansion of the national State and the arrival of immigrants" Vezub points out, and refutes false truths: “The rigid classifications that associate the Mapuche with the Chilean indigenous and the Tehuelche with the Argentine indigenous have been disregarded by anthropological and historical science for the last thirty years. These identities anticipated the drawing of national limits and were territorially configured on both sides of the Andes mountain range ”.
The anthropologist, teacher and researcher at the UBA Diana Lenton also appeared in the court case. He recalled that this discourse (of "having arrived later") was used repeatedly during the Desert Campaign and until the 1930s to strip indigenous peoples of their territories and to delegitimize their claims. “The same argumentative topic comes up over and over again. It acquires greater importance if we notice that legal discourse builds its contexts based on (those) other discourses ”, he warns.
Last week, and in an unusual measure, the Board of Directors of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the UBA issued a "declaration of repudiation of the appearance of numerous newspaper articles that offend the Mapuche people." He only mentions the newspaper La Nación, but warns about other regional media in Patagonia. “The struggle of the Mapuche people for land has been silenced and repressed by the pressure exerted by the interests of large real estate corporations in the region. These notes are not alien to these interests, since they misrepresent the contents of the Mapuche claims, reproducing a racist and essentialist perspective on identity processes ", the faculty denounces and urges the mass media to" address the issue with complexity and corresponding responsibility.
Genocide and denial of rights
By denying the origins of the Mapuche people, an attempt is made to use historical discussion as a mechanism for denying indigenous rights. It is one of the conclusions of Walter Delrio, doctor in history, researcher at Conicet and - although he prefers to avoid qualification - one of the academics who know the most about the original peoples of the south of the country. He was alerted by what he calls "a new wave of media expressions", and links it directly with "various sectors that propose not to contemplate the demands of indigenous populations."
Delrio affirms that the current offensive against the Mapuche people contains a “basic conceptual error in all its argumentation” (by attribution of nationalities to pre-existing peoples), selective xenophobia and class discrimination. "Archeology confirmed the millenary occupation of both Andean slopes as the same area and not only as mountain crossings of human population but also the joint use of what today is seen as 'both sides of the mountain range,'" he explained.
Professor at the National University of Río Negro and author of the book Expropriation Memories (essential material to understand state policies towards indigenous peoples), Delrio remarks that the populations crossed the mountain range regularly since thousands of years before the formation of the Nation states, but warns that the historical moment in which this action began to be seen as contrary and enemy to national identity is not accidental. “Towards the 1870s (beginning of the Desert Campaign), converting the entirety of the original population of the Pampa and Patagonia into 'foreign invaders' gave a supposed legality to the military campaigns that subdued, expelled and appropriated their lands and workforce ”.
The historian requests that, when analyzing the present, the actions of the military campaigns of the Argentine and Chilean States be taken into account. “They attacked in coordination and the territories were divided. They conceived of indigenous society as a unit that had to be destroyed as a whole. ”
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