On Tuesday, October 4th, seven Mapuche women were arrested having had their rights and guarantees violated by a unified command of federal security forces and the Río Negro police in an eviction procedure. The police force was specifically created in order to evict a Mapuche community from their 2017 territorial claims in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, south of Bariloche. Simultaneously, the mega-operation ignored the will of the Bishopric of San Isidro and other national public bodies not to carry out evictions in six of those nine plots claimed by the Mapuche-Tehuelche community, as recorded in the files of the same Federal Court of Bariloche.
One of the detainees was housed in the local public hospital due to reaching full-term pregnancy, two were held with their newborn babies in a prison far from the city center, and another four were left incommunicado and isolated after being transferred more than 1,500 kilometers from their place of origin. The latter four detainees have mounted a hunger strike in direct response to these conditions. A group of children and adolescents escaped from the repressive police operation and remained isolated in the mountains for more than twelve hours without food and under a constant drizzle of rain. The federal judge who commanded the operation, Silvina Domínguez, did not allow their relatives to enter the area of conflict to remove them. The Federal Police in charge of the operation are seeking the capture of at least 14 men whose identities and positions are unknown.
The National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the governing body of the National System for the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatments and Punishments (SNPT), formally requested that the transfers of the four women to units in Buenos Aires be reversed.
— Comité Nacional para la Prevención de la Tortura (@CNPTArgentina) October 6, 2022
Betiana Colhuan Nahuel, 20, a machi (spiritual authority) of the Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu community accused of trespassing on its ancestral land, is currently being held in an Airport Police jail at the Bariloche airport. Betiana is the cousin of Rafael Nahuel, who was shot in the back on November 25, 2017, by a member of the Albatros de la Prefectura special operations service. This special operations group also includes the special command that began in Mascardi. Uncertainty now remains as to whether the rewe (ceremonial space of the machi) was damaged during the raid, kidnapping and destruction of Lof property that began on Tuesday after a precautionary measure was filed.
This massive eviction of the nine plots reversed the choice of the Bishopric of San Isidro (owner of a property) not to permit this action and the will of the State itself. The National Administration of National Parks, owner of three plots of land, discontinued its support of the eviction and did not comply with the request to bring it to trial. Another plot was returned to the State for debts incurred by the owner. This information is what is on government record, since it intervened through the Human Rights Secretariat.
According to the lawyers defending the detainees, human rights organizations and the Coordinator of the Mapuche Parliament of Río Negro, amongst others, the entire operation, including the opening of the original judicial file, is riddled with irregularities and the subjugation of rights. On Thursday, October 6, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta resigned as Minister of Women, Genders and Diversity in protest of these human rights violations. In many parts of the country, Mapuche-Tehuelche organizations and expressions, along with political, environmental, trade union and human rights spaces, took to the streets to demand the release of political prisoners, the resumption of dialogue and an end to the militarization of the territorial conflict.
Dark object of desire
On Sunday night, September 25, anonymous perpetrators attacked a Gendarmerie mobile surveillance box that guarded private property within the jurisdiction of National Parks, about 35 kilometers south of Bariloche. The local federal court attributed the attack to Lof Lafquen Winkul Mapu, as argued by Minister of Security Aníbal Fernández in the decree creating the Villa Mascardi unified command. The decree was published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday, October 4; the same day that the operation began.
The Ministry of Security created the “Villa Mascardi Zone Unified Security Command for inter-force management and coordination of crime prevention activities auxiliary to the organs of the judiciary administration system for securing people and assets within the location.” That was the claim of the governor of Río Negro, Arabela Carreras, and those defending private property supposedly threatened by the rights of the Indigenous peoples in Argentina.
The decree was made classified by prosecutor María Cándida Etchepare and Judge Domínguez after the violent attack against the mobile detachment of the Gendarmerie. Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out by hooded suspects. However, the federal judiciary attributed it to the Winkul. Security Minister Fernández repeated this possibility and began the forced eviction, arrests and persecution of “between 15 and 20 people with their faces covered” who resisted a visual inspection on Tuesday, September 27.
The burning of the surveillance box was intentional, although depending on who carried it out, the intention substantially changes. The truth is that this fire allowed Judge Domínguez to initiate new proceedings that overrode judicial decisions made in other cases processed in her own court as well as in the provincial jurisdiction. She ordered a general search of the nine plots in conflict, despite the fact that only three promoted the eviction. Despite what was decided and recorded in other individual proceedings, the new order evicted three plots in National Parks, one owned by the Personal Gas Union of the State (which was returned to the National State due to debts) and one owned by the Bishopric of San Isidro.
From the Federal Police Headquarters on Monday, October 3, the day before the formal creation of the unified command, Domínguez issued a search warrant to Commissioner General Dante Cardozo, ordering the eviction of the nine plots and the detention of their occupants in the case of arson and assault on authority. That same Monday morning, personnel and vehicles arrived at the Bariloche airport. The previous week, Minister Fernández had first met with Governor Carreras and then Betiana Minor, his Security detail in Río Negro.
The nine plots for which the command was created add up to 27.7 hectares. The Nahuel Huapi National Park is 710,000 hectares. The Arelauquen Golf and Country Club, owned by the Belgian group BURCO, is 780 hectares. Tavistock Group has more than 12,000 hectares of land, including Lake Escondido. Capital firms from the United Arab Emirates own at least 22,000 rural hectares in the El Foyel area. These are just a few cases of large private properties located near the area of conflict. The area actually occupied by the Winkul over five years varied, starting from just under two hectares in the first resettlement, which was expanded after the murder of Rafael Nahuel, which remains unpunished.
The formal numbers of the plots show how disproportionate the order to evict is, both in terms of the number of troops and expenditure of public resources. In this sense, it is not the land that is at stake nor the specific burden of the owners who demand a firm hand, which seems to have defined the militarization of the area in this last stage. The La Escondida property is registered as property of Magdalena Giménez de Tournier, La Cristalina, registered to Catalina and Lucía Frutos, and Los Radales, registered to Mercedes Josefina Olivera (wife of Luis Dates, spokesperson for the conflict).
Olivera’s case is striking, as she formalized the purchase in 2019 when the conflict was already well advanced. It is usually argued that territorial conflict threatens real estate activity, which did not happen in this case.
Violation of rights
Andrea Reile, a lawyer for the Argentine League for Human Rights, intervenes on behalf of the detainees. She was never able to access the proceeding for which the seven women are deprived of their liberty. The court did not notify her of the early morning transfer of four of the women to Buenos Aires by plane, nor did it respond to the request for their release. Reile asserts that rights enshrined in international treaties regarding women, children and adolescents, and Indigenous people were violated.
Gómez Alcorta cited those same breaches in her resignation as minister of women, genders and diversity, which she presented on Thursday, October 6, and the President accepted on Friday, October 7. On the other hand, Río Negro cabinet officials deemed that rights were respected, despite the fact that the Undersecretary for Human Rights was never notified and showed up at the scene when they learned of the events from the press.
Juan Manuel Irrazábal, president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CNPT), asked Domínguez to reverse the measure regarding the four detainees transferred to Buenos Aires. In his argument, he highlighted that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has already ruled against the Argentine State in similar transfers, referring to the case of four detainees from a unit in Neuquén. A delegation from the agency interviewed Luciana Jaramillo, Débora Vera, Andrea Despo and Florencia Melo. The women “stated that they were on a hunger strike because they understood their rights had been violated, as, up to the time of the interview, they had not been duly notified of the crimes they were accused of nor of the coercive measures against them. They also did not have complete knowledge regarding the situation of their minor children, among other issues reported.” These detentions “do not comply with international and national standards regarding the rights of Indigenous peoples, the rights of persons deprived of their liberty to be housed close to their homes, the principle of the best interests of the children of women deprived of liberty, and the right to defense.”
Additionally, in the case of “the criminal persecution of members of the Mapuche Indigenous People, the Inter-American Court highlighted that the duty to facilitate their accommodation in the nearest penitentiary centers is especially important given the importance of the link that these people have with their place of origin or their communities.”
Minister Fernández deemed the actions of the command to be impeccable.
In 2021, the same Committee against Torture intervened in the Lof Quemquentreu conflict in the Cuesta del Ternero area, south of Mascardi. At that time, Minor acknowledged that the province “does not have a specific protocol for security force intervention before the Indigenous peoples,” but that “they are working together with the provincial Human Rights Secretariat to design a training plan for police officers oriented toward interventions involving territorial conflicts with communities.” The antecedent of territorial recovery in the contemporary modality of the Mapuche people in Río Negro is that of Pampa Amarilla from 1993.
Still, it would not matter much if Minor didn’t make very much headway with those outstanding commitments. Apparently, there was an agreement between the Nation and the province by which the operation protected the provincial government and local judiciary. So much so that Carreras traveled to Rome to celebrate the canonization of Artémides Zatti, a Salesian nurse with a well-remembered career in Viedma. The balm of the Vatican never hurts.
(El Cohete a la Luna) by Susana Lara
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
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