Villa Mascardi is a tourist town in Argentine Patagonia located on the shores of a pristine lake and surrounded by forests and mountains. In the last five years, this town within the Nahuel Huapi Natural Park has been shaken by clashes between neighbors and Mapuches who claim part of the adjoining lands as their own ancestral territories. After the failure of the dialogue table, the Government of Alberto Fernández has resorted to force for the first time: it has created a unified security command and has sent police forces.
More than 200 members of the Federal Police and Gendarmerie have arrived in the area this Tuesday to evict the lands in the hands of the Mapuche Lafken Winkul Mapu community. The occupants have responded with stones and have anticipated that they will return. During the operation, at least a dozen people have been arrested, including a woman in an advanced state of pregnancy and five minors.
“We are going to work based on judicial decisions. We have to be able to regulate the situation because it is not correct”, declared the Minister of Security, Aníbal Fernández, without giving more details.
The police operation is complex. In 2017, during the Presidency of Mauricio Macri, police forces carried out a violent eviction against that community in Villa Mascardi, 35 kilometers from Bariloche. One of its members, Rafael Nahuel, 22, was shot dead by one of the agents sent to expel the Mapuche. Two other members of lof Lafken Winkul Mapu were injured. Months earlier, the craftsman Santiago Maldonado drowned in the Chubut River while fleeing from another eviction and his lifeless body took two and a half months to be located. His temporary disappearance caused the first great political crisis of the Macri government.
Rafael’s aunt, María Nahuel, warned this Tuesday that the disputed lands belong to them. “The State stole our mapu [tierra] and no matter how much they take us out, we will always return to our territory. I ask the Mapuche to demonstrate”, he said in radio statements.
The Argentine Constitution recognizes the legal personality of the indigenous communities of Argentina and the community ownership of the lands they traditionally occupy. However, many original peoples were expelled from the places they inhabited and they also have no way to prove that their ancestors lived there, which has generated numerous territorial conflicts throughout the country.
change of strategy
To date, the Fernández government had committed to dialogue. The eviction carried out this Tuesday and the creation of a unified security command mark a change in strategy. According to Laura Taffetani, a lawyer who represents the community, the Executive has given in to pressure from economic and media groups who want to expel the Mapuche from there. For the Center for Social and Legal Studies (CELS), one of the best-known human rights organizations in Argentina, this type of pressure “fertilizes a repressive consensus.”
“The security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against women and children,” CELS denounced through the networks. Taffetani maintains that the “violent police action does not comply with the precautions that must be taken when there are children and adolescents.” In addition, he warns that the eviction was carried out under the pretext of a search for evidence related to the intentional burning of a gendarmerie post last week. “The fire is attributed to the community and they have had nothing to do with it. We think that it was provoked by certain sectors that carry out violent actions against the community and that it is a covert eviction”, he assures by telephone.
According to local media, the area occupied by the Mapuche is close to 40 hectares. According to Taffetani, it is 20 times lower. The judicial case is under summary and the Ministry of Security does not provide information either.
The police operation has revived the Mapuche conflict in Argentine Patagonia. Some residents have come out to applaud the actions of the security forces, while others have called for protests. In the city of Esquel, a group of Mapuches has blocked the departure of the tourist train La Trochita, which was carrying 180 passengers, and has forced the service to be cancelled. In the next few hours, tension is expected to remain high.
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