On Monday, December 13th, the Spanish newspaper El País reported that during Michelle Bachelet’s time as President in Chile, there were official communications made between Chile and the U.S. asking for U.S. assistance in gathering information on Chile’s Mapuche population. The story was based on documents produced by Wikileaks that were written in 2008 and 2009. Based on those documents, the Chilean government suspected that there were Mapuche individuals with ties to the FARC and other terrorist organizations and were seeking help in identifying those networks.
Specifically, the communications originated from Edmundo Pérez Yoma, the former Minister of the Interior, and they requested that the U.S. government help Chile keep an eye on the possible radicalization of the Mapuche people by following their international contacts and their money. The impetus for the request seems to have stemmed out of some incidents that occurred between Mapuche, police, and foreign companies over land rights in 2008.
It appears that the U.S. government originally did make some investigations into the Mapuche based on the requests made by the Chilean government, but ultimately they deemed the situation non-threatening. Communications from the United States made clear that they did not see the Mapuche as a threat, stating that the Mapuche were “overwhelmingly non-violent,” and that no evidence “had been provided” which could link Mapuche individuals to terrorist organizations.
The U.S. government did admit that certain Mapuche individuals had traveled to Columbia, Mexico and Spain, and may even have received some training. However, the U.S. goes on to essentially dismiss this evidence by indicating that there is clearly no organized threat, and the interactions that have taken appear to be informal and infrequent.
Instead, the U.S. offered its own take on why the conflict with the Mapuche seemed worse than it was in reality—the Chilean media was blowing it out of proportion. For instance, one statement from U.S. officials indicates that while an observer of the Chilean news “might think that violent Mapuche activists, related to the FARC and ETA, kill innocent civilians every week,” the reality was much different. The U.S. response went further to say, “The destruction of property, which represents the vast majority of the illegal actions of the Mapuche, is often presented in full color with brazen headlines and sometimes much more coverage is given to those crimes than to much more serious crimes [carried out] by non-Indigenous Chileans.”
In a separate communication, the U.S. Ambassador indicated that blame for the escalating conflict between the Chilean government and the Mapuche people does not rest with one party. That is, in addition to finding fault with the Chilean government and the Chilean media, the documents reveal that the U.S. saw the Mapuche people as a source for some of the conflict as well. Specifically, the Ambassador indicated that a lack of organization among the Mapuche, a lack of clear demands by the Mapuche, and the occasional violence all contributed as well to the so-called “Mapuche problem.”
It was only a few hours after the story broke that former Chilean Minister of Defense, Francisco Vidal, responded. Vidal stated that if such communications were, in fact, made to the U.S., he was unaware of them. Further, he stated that requesting help from the U.S., if true, was an unnecessary thing because the Chilean forces had more than enough ability to gather information and were, in fact, doing so.
Almost as quickly came a statement by the former Director of CONADI (Indigenous Development Corporation), Domingo Namuncura, who said that it was a mistake for the Bachelet government to request outside help in an internal matter, in part, because such a request weakens Chilean sovereignty. Namuncura also expressed frustration that the Government would choose to spend time and resources that could only foster distrust among Indigenous peoples, instead of trying to provide answers to the problems they face.
Similar sentiments were expressed by the Vice-President of the Christian Democratic Party, and current Deputy, Fuad Chahin, who said that the decision to ask for outside help was wrong, and that it only served to further stigmatize the Indigenous peoples of Chile.
Some Indigenous leaders were also fast to reply. For instance, Aucan Huilcaman, a Mapuche leader from the Council of All Lands stated that the documents clearly indicate that the former government had no ability to deal with Indigenous issues. Another leader, Mijael Carbone, who is from the traditional community of Temucuicui, and a part of the Indigenous group called the Mapuche Territorial Alliance, stated that many were aware of spies in their midst during the previous administration and that although things were said about them, no one listened. Even so, he added, these documents clearly serve to confirm what the Mapuche people have been claiming all along—there are no links between the Mapuche people and terrorist organizations.