Reportage. ‘The life of a human being cannot be worth so little.’ Protests erupted around the region, and police fiercely put them down. Mapuche leaders see ‘ongoing repression.’

Chilean court convicts police sergeant who killed a Mapuche man

The trial of Camilo’s murderers took place this month, and on Thursday, January 7, at 11 am, the sentence was read: the main suspect, former sergeant Carlos Alarcón, was convicted of simple homicide and six other police officers were found guilty of obstruction of justice.

Camilo’s father, Marcelo Catrillanca, who was in front of the court house, said: “This sentence is a mockery for the Mapuche people and for Camilo’s life. The life of a human being cannot be worth so little. I’d like to tell my son that I did everything I could to get justice. At least we took those policemen to court, and it was declared that they are murderers.”

Within a few hours, protests over the sentence spread throughout the Auracanía region, a region in south-central Chile historically inhabited by the Mapuche, a native people of Chile and Argentina.

It did not take long for the police to respond, and they began to fiercely repress the protesters. Camilo Catrillanca’s mother and wife were handcuffed and brutally arrested along with their 7-year-old daughter. Images began to circulate right away of the crying child being taken away by four uniformed officers, while behind her, another Mapuche protester was slammed to the ground as a policeman handcuffed him.

In the words of the Mapuche deputy Emilia Nuyado: “The ongoing repression in Auracanía shows that the state is always trying to harass and punish the Mapuche. We demand justice for the murder of Camilo: we want an exemplary punishment. The policemen shot two unarmed young men, one of whom was a minor, for no reason. It is wrong for justice to qualify it as a simple homicide, since evidence has been concealed and the police have tried to create a narrative by accusing Camilo of stealing a car. We have reasonable doubt to suspect that this murder was planned.”

A video of a young Mapuche boy injured during the clashes in Auracanía following the reading of the sentence has gone viral. The images show the boy losing a lot of blood: the police had shot a rubber bullet through his mouth.

The conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean state is one that has been going on for many, many years now, but it has escalated since October 18, 2019, when the protests against Sebastian Piñera’s government for the huge inequalities among the population began.

But what are the reasons for the conflict? Although there are more than 2 million Chilean inhabitants belonging to indigenous peoples (of which the Mapuche are the most numerous) who are suffering due to discriminatory policies carried out by the government, their protests are systematically repressed and many of their leaders have been assassinated or imprisoned.

On Friday, January 8, the protests over the sentencing of the perpetrators of Camillo Catrillanca’s murder moved to Santiago, Chile. Thousands of people demonstrated, and in the late afternoon broke into Plaza Dignidad, which had been occupied by police for months. The Mapuche flag was once again flown at the center of the square that is a symbol of the protests.

On December 16, the Parliament passed a law reserving 17 seats to representatives of indigenous communities, out of 155 total seats, in the assembly that will have the task of drafting the new Chilean Constitution, after the referendum on October 25 voted to repeal the old Constitution written at the time of Pinochet’s military regime.

Salvador Millaleo is a Mapuche lawyer, Professor of Law at the University of Chile and one of the experts who wrote the bill on the seats reserved to indigenous communities. He is also a member of the Comision Chilena de Derechos Humanos and a candidate for the Constituent Assembly for the Communist Party.

He told il manifesto: “It was very difficult, and many times we were at risk of not finding a solution. The indigenous peoples would have liked to get more, but when we began to discuss the law, the number of seats reserved was zero. The Chilean government has never had a relationship with the indigenous peoples that is as between equals, but a paternalistic and repressive one: not only does the state not recognize the rights of indigenous peoples, but it is repressing and criminalizing protests. In such a situation, having 17 seats is undoubtedly something important.”

During the demonstrations against the government, the Mapuche flag is always displayed, Millaleo explains: “Since the protests began in October 2019, a lot of empathy has arisen towards the indigenous peoples who have suffered from government repression, discrimination and inequality in an egregious way. The Indigenous peoples represent resistance, permanent struggle and dignity: in the face of abuses, they have continued to fight for their rights. A new Constitution can have a great importance, with a view to working on public policy and new laws that would finally recognize the rights of indigenous peoples.”

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