Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Disturbing Legal Position Against Mapuches in Chile

As it nears its end, Michele Bachelet's government in Chile has been remarkably successful. However, it all hasn't been roses, and this is one of the uglier aspects of her four-year administration:

Small groups of Mapuche Indians have so rattled Chile by seizing forests, burning buses and attacking police to demand land and autonomy that the leftist government has turned to dictatorship-era measures to quell the violence.

The government of President Michelle Bachelet is prosecuting Mapuche activists with secret evidence, protected witnesses and other tough aspects of an anti-terrorism law inherited from Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who jailed and tortured Bachelet's father and sent her into exile.

The police crackdown has left a stain on Bachelet's otherwise strong human rights record, with UNICEF, the UN Human Rights Commission and other international organizations expressing concern that elderly people and children are being abused.
Bachelet's response has been that, while she understands the claims of the Mapuches and the centuries of crimes the Chilean state has committed against them, she also has "said nothing justifies the violence, which so far has left four Mapuches dead and 100 convicted or jailed, at least 34 of whom are being tried on terrorism charges."

That may be. But last I checked, the deaths have been Mapuches, and not non-indigenous Chileans or agents of the state. And what is more, even if you don't think "violence" is the proper way for Mapuches to express their discontent, I really don't see how relying on the anti-terrorist laws of an extremely violent and repressive government is the correct response, either. Even if you do think it's the correct response, that doesn't justify attacks on elderly women and children, nor does it justify illegal and unconstitutional searches of Mapuche homes or the violation of basic rights.

Naturally, no president of any country is perfect. As the use of this Pinochet-era dictatorship law and the treatment of the Mapuches indicates, Bachelet's policies on and treatment of Chile's Mapuches may be the darkest stain on her administration.