A radicalized indigenous Mapuche group linked with acts of violent protest is gathering strength and becoming more organized, according to the recently released U.S. State Department’s 2009 report on world terrorism. The Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group.
The report says that the group Arauco Malleco Committee (CAM) has shown signs of “improved planning” in its activities and of a more “professional use of arms.” Members of CAM have in the past been charged with a number of violent attacks involving indigenous matters, including an armed assault on public prosecutor Mario Elgueta in Region VIII, October 2008 (ST, April 14 ).
According to the State Department report, U.S. law enforcement agencies have been studying the Mapuche conflict, and especially the activities of CAM, which it calls: “a violent Mapuche group that has burned farms and attacked police in lands that they claim as theirs.”
Some Mapuche groups are involved in ongoing disputes with the government and private companies regarding property rights on ancestral lands.
The report also says that Chilean police have been monitoring CAM for possible links with other Latin American and Spanish terrorist groups. In 2009, a number of Chilean politicians and law enforcement officials claimed publicly that these links exist, but so far they have not offered substantial evidence to support the allegations (ST, April 24 ).
The U.S. Embassy in Santiago said on Monday that it is in regular contact with law enforcement agencies in Chile in order to keep up-to-date with the conflict over the disputed lands and the activities of CAM. But it said that the U.S. had not been involved in any investigations into the conflict.
Still, the U.S. government has formed strong links with Chile in terms of anti-terrorist activities. According to the report, Chile’s police have also become members of the FBI’s South America Fingerprint Exchange Initiative, whereby foreign governments provide and exchange biometric information on violent criminal offenders with the U.S. government. The report also says that Chile’s Special Police Operations Group, the main task force assigned to deal with terrorist threats, undergoes regular U.S. Special Forces-sponsored training.
Human rights groups have frequently criticized the Chilean government for using controversial, Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws to subdue indigenous protests. In 2003 and 2009, the United Nations asked Chile to refrain from using anti-terrorist legislation in Mapuche land disputes (ST, April 15 ).