Members of Mapuche Ancestral Resistance in the pre-dawn hours of July 19 burned two excavator machines belonging to British business magnate Joe Lewis, that were being used to build a hydroelectric dam at El Bolsón, in Argentina's Río Negro province. The dam is planned for the headwaters of the Río Escondido, on Lewis' private property, and is being built in cooperation with Edenor electric company, of which Lewis is the biggest stock owner. The militants left leaflets headlined "Lewis Out of Patagonia," and listing their demands for the release of political prisoners and the eviction of oil, mining and hydroelectric companies from Mapuche traditional territories. Liberty was especially demanded for Facundo Jones Huala, who was arrested in May and is being held pending an extradition request by Chile, where he is wanted for "land usurpation." Mapuche territory is bisected by the Chile-Argentina border. (The Bubble, Buenos Aires, Clarín, Buenos Aires, July 19; Crónica, Chubut, June 29)
A six-person jury for the US Middle District of Florida in Orlando found Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez liable for the 1973 detention, torture and execution of Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara. The court ordered Barrientos to pay $28 million in damages, $8 million in compensatory damages, and $20 million in punitive damages. The jury found that Barrientos, 67, who now lives in Deltona, Fla., shot Jara, 40, in September 1973 after three days of beatings and torture. The singer was among thousands of leftists detained in Santiago's football stadium after Augusto Pinochet's coup d'etat against Chile's democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende. Barrientos was then serving as a lieutenant in Chile's armed forces. He fled Chile in 1989 and became a US citizen through marriage. He was one of nine retired army officers indicted for the murder in Chile four years ago, but the US Department of Justice has not responded to a request for his extradition.
A wave of student protests demanding education reform in Chile has been met with harsh repression, leading to charges of "torture" recalling the era of military rule. Clashes with police during President Michelle Bachelet's state-of-the-nation addres in Valparaiso made English-language headlines May 21. Demonstrators set up barricades and hurled fire-bombs, torching a pharmacy and supermarket, while police fired tear-gas and water cannon. A security guard reportedly died from smoke inhalation. Three days later, protesters actually invaded the presidential palace in Santiago, forcing their way past guards. Winning few headlines outside Chile is the controversy over abuse of arrested protesters. Most egregious is the case of Roberto Zambrano Freire, 18, who was arrested at a protest outside the National Institute, the country's most prestigious school, on May 17 and apparently beaten after being made to strip naked while in custody. The student's father, Roberto Zambrano Sepúlveda, says he is pressing for an investigation but is not optimistic, noting that "It is my boy's word against the Carabineros." He added: "The Carabineros of Chile continue operating with the same methods as the under the dictatorship." (TeleSur, BBC News, Diario UChile, BiobioChile, La Tendencia, RPP, Univision)
Bolivian President Evo Morales announced March 26 that his government will bring suit against Chile before the International Court of Justice seeking compensation for using the waters of the disputed Río Silala. Two days later, he made a visit to the river in Potosí department, where he declared, "Silala is not an international river." Chile's President Michelle Bachelet promptly responded that Bolivia has recognized the Silala as an international river for more than 100 years and said she would counter-sue before the World Court if Bolivia in fact brought a case. Originating in the high desert plateau of Bolivia's remote southeast, the Silala flows into Chile through a canal built for mining operations over a century ago. In 2009 Chile and Bolivia announced an accord to resolve the conflict, which would cut Chile's use of the Silala's water by 50%. But the pact was never formalized, and local communities in impoversihed Potosí demanded retroactive payment for Chile's past use of the waters.
Mapuche indigenous leaders in Chile are expressing outrage over the violent eviction of protesters who were occupying a government office in the southern region of Araucania last month. Some 40 local Mapuche residents had been occupying the offices of the National Indigenous Development Corporation (CONADI) in Temuco for three weeks when the building was stormed by troops of the Carabineros militarized police force Sept. 7. "The security forces, without warning, began immediately firing tear gas inside the building, even though they knew there were women and children inside," Mapuche leader Victor Queipul told Chilean media outlets. "These events...clearly show the inability of the government to engage in dialogue over the situation in La Araucania." The protest occupation was launched to demand resistution of usurped lands, and "demilitarization" of the Mapuche community of Ercilla, Malleco province, which has been occupied by police troops for months. (UNPO, Sept. 10; TeleSur, Sept. 8; PubliMetro, Biobio, 24Horas, Chile, Sept. 7)
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled (PDF) 14-2 Sept. 24 that it has jurisdiction to hear the case between Bolivia and Chile regarding land-locked Bolivia's access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia argued to the ICJ that Chile failed in its obligation to negotiate in good faith to grant Bolivia "fully sovereign access" to the Pacific, but Chile filed a preliminary objection that the ICJ had no authority to judge the dispute. The court reached its decision by relying on the Pact of Bogotá, in which Bolivia and Chile both agreed that the ICJ will have jurisdiction over matters regarding breach of an international obligation between American states. The court disagreed with Chile's argument that the dispute was one of territorial sovereignty and held that the subject matter of the dispute was a question of Chile's obligation to negotiate in good faith regarding access to the Pacific, granting the court the possibility of jurisdiction. Since the issue was not already decided by prior arrangement by the parties or by treaty in force at the time of the Pact of Bogotá, the ICJ ruled that it ultimately can hear the case.
One day after Chile's Supreme Court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for a "dirty war" crime, retired Gen. Hernán Ramírez Rurange shot himself in the head in his apartment in Santiago on Aug. 13. Ramírez was convicted as intellectual author of the "disappearance" of Eugenio Berríos, a chemist with the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA). Berrios disappeared in 1992 after fleeing to Uruguay to avoid testifying in assassination cases carried out under Operation Condor. Among the cases at issue was apparently that of former foreign minister Orlando Letelier, slain by a car-bomb attack in Washington DC in 1976. (EFE, 24Horas, Aug. 14; TeleSUR, La Trecera, Aug 13)
A group of about 70 indigenous Chilean Mapuche from the José Llancao community peacefully occupied a section of a government research farm in Vilcún commune in Cautín province, in the central Araucanía region, to further their demand for 60 hectares of land that they say belong to the community. The Carillanca Farming Research Center (INIA Carillanca) started as a private estate but has been operated as a research facility under the Agriculture Ministry for the past 50 years. According to the community's werken (spokesperson), Juan Alguilera Esquivel, the residents have been trying to reclaim the 60 hectares, which they say were usurped illegally by the owner of the private estate, for more than 20 years. The Mapuche, Chile's largest indigenous group, have been using land occupations since the 1990s in a campaign to regain land they consider ancestral territory. Local estate owners are strongly opposed to the community's claims on the research facility. "Not one meter should be sold," said Marcelo Zirotti, president of the Agricultural Development Society (SOFO). If the government gives up any land, "they'll be telling us, the farmers, that we should close up and go elsewhere." (Radio Bío Bío, Chile, Feb. 6; El Ciudadano, Chile, Feb. 6)