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Criminalization of protests spreads to the periphery
Hernán Scandizzo
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Indigenous communities and citizen assemblies are victims of repression for their resistance to natural resource extraction projects.

In recent years criminalization of social protest in Argentina has spread from the large urban centers to the periphery, particularly protests organized to support indigenous territorial demands and struggles in defense of common lands led by socio-environmental assemblies.

“In the 1990s, the state response to the demands of unemployed people was clearly criminalization and, in recent years identified as kirchnerism, it is not so much repression which is the mechanism by which protests are broken up,” claimed Eduardo Hualpa, president of the Association of Lawyers for Indigenous rights (AADI), to Latinamerica Press. “There are other mechanisms, there are complicated dialogues, there are some who say there is cooptation, others who say that there is the incorporation of political projects; but, definitely, there are other phenomena in play that don’t happen in the case of the demands of indigenous communities or institutions. The state does not have a political proposal to integrate or incorporate indigenous demands with respect to the self-determination of peoples,” he added.

The jurist Alberto Binder, member of the board of directors of the Latin-American Institute for Democratic Security (ILSED), agreed with the analysis of Hualpa, although he pointed out that in the urban areas a change in the state’s response has begun to take shape, a “greater repression” is being used against labor commissions of the leftist-classist tendencies that have departed from the “channels of standard negotiation” used by the union bureaucracy.

Binder regretted that the national government has not persisted in order that the protocols of state interventions in social protests are implemented by provincial police. According to the jurist, the application of these procedural norms, in whose development human rights organizations such as the Center for Legal and Social Studies and the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights participated, would avoid or reduce violence in instances of repression.

The report, “Minimum Criteria for the Actions of Police and Security Forces in Public Demonstrations”, released in 2011 by the Ministry of National Security establishes, among other points, that the intervention of forces will be progressive, beginning with dialogue with the protest organizers; prohibits the police that could have direct contact with the demonstrators, carry firearms — a measure in effect since 2010 nationwide —, also prohibits the use of tear gas guns and limit the use of rubber bullets.

Due to the decrease in social protests in urban areas, led in some cases by social movements echoing the demands of peasants, indigenous and socio-environmental assemblies, “the middle class has begun to look at these problems as remote from themselves, so this makes these causes remain hidden,” warned Binder. According to the jurist, the loss of presence in urban centers has weakened the causes of the original peoples and of the socio-environmental assemblies that “have minimal support structure” and “paves the way for increased repression by provincial governments.”

“The defense structure of the human rights groups in the provinces is minimal and it is difficult for the larger human rights organizations in Buenos Aires to get there,” he added.

On the other hand, in his analysis about the advances and setbacks on criminalization, Binder emphasized the Antiterrorist Law, whose reform was approved in December 2011. The jurist cautioned that the definition of terrorism is not precise, and leaves a wide margin for interpretation and application.

“Now terrorism is any crime in the Penal Code that is done with terrorist purpose; that is to say, with the end of terrorizing, of imposing conditions on public authorities,” he said. The previous law, product of a reform in 2007, penalized the participation in an illicit association with the purpose of generating terror in the population and the financing of terrorist organizations.

Indigenous protest
For Hualpa, the indigenous people “again appear to limit the economic and productive development of the country. We return to the texts of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, of Juan Bautista Alberdi, of the 19th century [that introduced the dichotomy ‘civilization or barbarism’],” he declared.

On April 13 charges were brought against three Mapuche leaders from the Neuquén province, in Patagonia, Argentina: Relmu Ñamku was accused of homicidal intent, and the werken (messenger), Martin Maliqueo, and the logko (political authority), Mauricio Raín, were charged of severe damages. The court case was originated in the Winkul Newen community’s resistance to the exploitation of hydrocarbons in their territory.

On Dec. 28, 2012, conflicts occurred when a judicial employee accompanied by police and representatives of the Apache petroleum company tried to notify the community of their eviction due to an official request of the company that intended to enter and work the oilfield, which had been immobilized by the Mapuche. During the conflict, the justice official, Verónica Pelayes, was wounded in the face by a rock.

The state prosecutor and the plaintiffs will ask for a sentence of 15 years in prison for Ñamku. If she is found guilty, the case could establish a negative precedent not only for indigenous demands but for social protests in general.

“Clearly with this judgment comes a warning to the communities to beware,” affirmed Darío Kosovsky, defense lawyer for the Mapuche. “There is an authoritarian criminal policy in the Neuquén’s Public Ministry because there is no legal basis for this type of judgment that is being attempted to be applied in this case.”

“The conflict is not about the throwing of a rock and the wound of this person, which is lamentable, but rather the real conflict is between the state, the petroleum company and the community. This fact remains as an adjustment variable to avoid any kind of resistance,” emphasized Kosovsky.

“This court case, besides the persons involved, has a more profound meaning; to create the domino effect, to bring the weight of the Penal Code on everyone who struggles against petroleum exploitation in the way that is occurring in Neuquén,” claims Ñamku. The Mapuche leader emphasized that the trial is disciplining measure “meant for all who oppose fracking.”

Petroleum criminalization
Along the same lines, the exploitation of hydrocarbons in Vaca Muerta, one of the main fields of shale oil and shale gas in the world, where fracking have unleashed territorial conflicts with the neighboring town of Añelo, should be mentioned. On Aug. 13, the Campo Maripe community suffered a fire of two homes, a community center and a warehouse after the provincial legislature approved the YPF-Chevron project to extract shale petroleum and gas in the area of Loma Campana, in a territory that the Mapuche claim as their own.

The exploitation of Vaca Muerta has generated a demographic explosion in Añelo by the possible jobs in the petroleum industry. In 2010 the area had 2,449 inhabitants, according the Population Census, and in 2015 would grow to 13,736 inhabitants, according to Idom, a consulting firm. This situation has overwhelmed the provincial and municipal capacity to respond so the company’s contributions are very important. For example, the YPF Foundation with the Inter-American Bank for Development have developed guidelines for the urban design of Añelo to accomodate its growth. Also, the Argentine petroleum company through its foundation, as well as the French company Total, will finance the works to increase the supply of potable water in the area and have provided assistance to education and health centers.

In this regard, the federal prosecutor in Neuquen, María Cristina Beute, has expressed her concern about the financial contribution by the oil companies to ensure a wider deployment of police in the area.

“The Police function belongs to the State, it shouldn’t be outsourced, much less be put in the hands of someone with interests, such as not allowing production to stop. Security will then be organized in function of this economic interest and all that impedes it will be resolved in a manner that suits them,” warned Beute. —Latinamerica Press.


Court session in Zapala, Neuquén, in which charges are brought against Relmu Ñamku, Martín Maliqueo and Mauricio Rain. (Photo: Carlos Darío Martínez)
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