Mapuche communities brutally attacked by police

mapuches Chile argentina

For decades the indigenous Mapuche people have struggled for their land against mining companies, the land-thirsty multinational corporation Benetton and megaprojects to build holiday resorts and ski stations in their historical territories. Mapuche people have resisted state violence and organised themselves, facing repression on both sides of the Andes, especially from the Chilean state, where the ‘anti-terrorist’ laws of dictator Pinochet were never abolished and are used against them.

Read more ...

State kidnap in Argentina’s Mapuche Community: Santiago Maldonado ‘disappeared’

Santiago Maldonado

On 1 August 2017, a group of Argentina’s armed National Gendarmerie (GNA) attacked the territory of the Mapuche community Pu Lof en Resistencia, in the department of Cushamen, in Chubut province, Patagonia, Argentina. They attacked a roadblock which had been erected by protesters on the main north south route 40. They fired lead and rubber bullets and burned many families’ possessions. Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old activist who arrived the day before to support the community in its fight to reclaim traditional homelands, disappeared, was last seen caught and beaten as he retreated from the raid. He has not been seen for two months now. This Cushamen protest was held to defy the detention in March 2016 of Mapuche leader Facundo Jones Huala, who heads the Ancestral Mapuche Resistance (RAM) separatist group, and seven of his comrades. Jones Huala is in a Chubut jail, and the Chilean government, which considers him a ‘terrorist’, has requested his extradition.

Neoliberal president Mauricio Macri, despite various habeas corpus submissions, has tried to downplay this seizure, with ‘Security’ Minister Patricia Bullrich lying about Santiago’s family, labelling sections of the Mapuche People as ‘terrorists’ (so retrospectively justifying the use of the GNA who are not the regular police) and discrediting campaigners searching for Santiago.

The GNA is a security force ‘of a military nature’ which reports to the federal government. Since March 2015 the Mapuche community, under the constant surveillance of the police, has pursued a land claim against the ‘Compañía de Tierras del Sur Argentino’, owned by the Benetton family since 1991, which holds 900,000 hectares in Argentine Patagonia. The Maruche want 500 hectares returned to them, from which they were evicted by Benetton in 2002 as ‘illegal settlers’. Having seized the land from natives the Argentine government sold it into private hands in 1885 and 1896.

Oil and mining companies and large ranches have moved onto community lands – often by force – dispossessing Mapuche communities. In 2016, there was increasing stigmatisation and persecution of the Mapuche people, labelled as ‘threats to social security’, despite Argentina’s nominal adoption of international treaties establishing their rights in principle (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. ILO Convention No 169, and the Argentine Constitution article 75:17). This year Amnesty International issued an ‘Urgent Action’ for acts of repression and violence against the Mapuche community of Lof Cushamen in Chubut, carried out on 10 and 11 January. 200 armed police arrived with 9mm pistols, sighted rifles, batons, shields, a water cannon, and hydro plane, a helicopter, and several drones. In both episodes, the community suffered beatings and harassment of the women and children.

The grim reputation of disappearances and mass murder perpetrated in the Argentine ruling class’s recent history pushed thousands of protesters to march in Buenos Aires to demand the release of Santiago, only to be met with further repression by the police who used rubber bullets. In La Plata a second demonstration saw a Molotov cocktail thrown; evidence suggests agent provocateurs were used to discredit the otherwise peaceful protests. Global protests are also growing, forcing the government to offer a ‘reward’ for information, so hypocritically distancing itself from its agents’ actions. Now Santiago’s family say they have agreed to give samples of blood and saliva to check with the DNA of blood and hair found, ominously, in a police van.

We demand that the truth of Santiago’s disappearance be revealed and a definitive solution be found to the territorial claim of the people of Pu Lof, in the interests of the Mapuche.

Alvaro Michaels

Argentinian election excites reaction

On 22 November Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires, won the presidential election under the ‘Cambiemos’ (‘Let’s Change’) coalition party flag, with 51.4% of votes. Macri narrowly defeated Daniel Scioli, the ‘Peronist’ Justicialista Party (in its ‘Front for Victory’ alliance) candidate, who got 48.6% of the votes, in the first run off in Argentine political history. Macri is only the fourth non-Peronist president elected over the past half century, and is outvoted in the Lower House with 91 of the 257 seats. He takes power on 10 December, promising a return to neoliberalism.

Scioli was outgoing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s chosen replacement and Macri’s surprising victory followed Scioli’s better performance in the first round. The result plunges the country into a period of uncertainty dressed in business optimism. Macri is from a wealthy construction company family, who promised to fight crime, and reduce inflation, around 20%, and youth unemployment, over 20%, by bowing to the conditions set by international capital markets. Sergio Massa’s United for a New Alternative movement, with 21.39% of the votes, has promised to support Macri. Scioli’sFront for Victory party also lacks a majority in the lower chamber and needs to seek alliances if it is to block Macri.

International banks supported Macri: JPMorgan lowered Argentina's risk index by 16% on the day following the election, to levels not seen since 2011, so rewarding bond holders, and Moody’s raised its ‘outlook’ for investors. To curry favour with the US, Macri immediately demanded that Venezuela be suspended from the Mercosur trading bloc for ‘human rights abuses’, a shameful repetition of criminal slanders directed against the Maduro government, confirming the standards to be expected from Macri’s social class.

Alvaro Michaels

Argentina?US venture capitalist attack dogs

On 30 July Argentina was forced into technical default on its renegotiated international debts (FRFI 240). A US court blocked Argentine funds of $539m held at the Bank of New York Mellon for interest payments; Citibank was stopped from paying creditors through its Argentine office. The US court is backing US hedge funds NML Capital and Aurelius Capital Management, which aim to extort 100% face value from secondhand state bonds bought at knock down prices. Argentina cannot service its restructured debt until it settles its $1.3bn dispute with the companies, which threatens Argentina’s economy.

These hedge funds are a strike force for all US banks that can’t tolerate any escape from their nets of debt. Argentina is now locked out of the international capital markets. Argentina’s economy minister Axel Kicillof explained these vultures’ five-point plan: ‘an attack on the currency to force devaluation, personal attacks on the president, stopping the payment of upcoming debt obligations, blocking financing and waiting until [a new president is in place in] 2016.’ The economy is already expected to shrink by 0.5% to 2% with inflation running at 37% this year.

The debt problems go back to Argentina’s 1976-1983 US-backed military dictatorship, which oversaw a 465% explosion in state debt. Argentina defaulted in 2002, and lenders agreed to reduce their claims in 2005 and 2010. Restructuring debts became central to Argentinian political life.

If the vultures’ demands are met before the end of 2014, all the other creditors who had accepted reduced terms must get the same treatment. That bill could reach $15bn. Argentina’s foreign currency reserves are $28bn. Payment would send Argentina into recession or force the country into bankruptcy.

NML Capital, part of billionaire Paul Singer’s $17bn Elliot Management Corporation, bought $48m worth of the debt. Now he wants to wring $1.3bn out of Argentina with it. He spent $20m in 1995 on defaulted debt from Peru, suing for $58m. He acquired some of Congo-Brazzaville’s debt for $30m, and was ‘awarded’ over $100m interest in 2002 and 2003.

Argentina’s response

Argentina had deposited around $1bn with bond trustees – including the Bank of New York Mellon and Citibank Argentina – to pay its creditors. Citibank acts on the bonds under Argentine not US law and appealed against the block on making payments, arguing that it couldn’t comply with the US court rulings and Argentine law. Citibank faces civil and criminal sanctions, including the possible nationalisation of Citibank Argentina, if it fails to make interest payments to holders of $8.4bn. Argentina must pay $200m to bondholders on 30 September to prevent the default spreading to other bonds, raising the risk of other investors calling for immediate payment on all their bonds.

On 11 September Argentina’s Congress removed Bank of New York Mellon as its agent and proposed Nación Fideicomisos, a unit of state-owned Banco Nación, as a replacement, so the government could make interest payments on an estimated $29bn in foreign-held bonds either in Argentina or elsewhere out of US jurisdiction.

On 19 September, the Federal Appeals Court US dismissed an appeal by Citibank and Argentina to let the country make payments, sending the appellants back to New York District Court. Meanwhile, the peso fell against the dollar.

To allow the venture capitalists free reign, the US government has refused to allow the case to be heard before the International Court of Justice of the United Nations. The lesson is clear, the imposition of debt remains a fundamental trap by which imperialism extorts surplus value from other states, without which it cannot live and so cannot ever forgive.

Alvaro Michaels

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014

Argentina: Imperialism’s financial grip

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 240 August/September 2014

Central to the export of capital by imperialism is the imposition of debt on weaker states. Debt interest payments have to be enforced if the rich are to prosper and a domestic middle class be paid off. After Argentina’s default on its $100bn debt in 2001, including $81bn of international debt, its ruling class has tried to weaken the hold the EU and US’s financial elite have on the country. Default was Argentina’s only option in the face of a 2001 state debt of 160% of GDP, a 10% fall in GDP from 1998, unemployment around 25% and over half the population in poverty. However the ruling class needs access to foreign capital. Some accommodation to its creditors is essential. Alvaro Michaels reports.

Read more ...