March to demand justice for Rafael Nahuel, in 2018.ABartoliche
An Argentine court has begun this Tuesday the trial against five members of a special force of the Naval Prefecture for the murder of a young Mapuche in 2017. Rafael Nahuel, 22, died from a shot in the back on November 25 of that year, during an eviction operation in an occupied area of the Nahuel Huapi National Park, in northwestern Argentine Patagonia. The officers are accused of aggravated homicide by the use of firearms and with excessive self-defense. The complaint, in which the Government’s Human Rights Secretariat participates, will try to prove that the officers did not act in legitimate defense and that they committed a murder during a persecution when the members of the community that they sought to evict had already left the area. The court will hear a hundred witnesses for two months.
The trial for the death of Rafael Nahuel returns to the agenda a bitter territorial dispute that has been in one of Argentina’s tourist paradises for almost six years. It began in November 2017, when the Lafken Winkul Mapu Mapuche community announced the “recovery” of some 10 hectares of land within the national park on the shores of Lake Mascardi, 35 kilometers south of the city of Bariloche, and two weeks later a judge Federal requested their eviction after the denunciation of “usurpation” of the National Parks authority. The Naval Prefecture carried out a violent eviction in which 300 agents threw the Mapuches out of there, but a small group of resisters remained. On November 25, with the conflict escalating, lead bullets were fired that killed Rafael Nahuel and wounded two of his companions.
The repression was a shock to the country, which was then watching over the body of another who died during the police persecution of the Mapuches. In August, the artisan Santiago Maldonado disappeared near the Chubut River, a little further south, while fleeing from another eviction. Maldonado, who had joined the indigenous cause out of solidarity, threw himself into the river while the gendarmes pursued his group in a private room belonging to Italian billionaire Carlo Benetton. The authorities took more than two months to find his body, and the search for him was the first major political crisis of the Government of then President Mauricio Macri.
Compared to the silence that enveloped the first months of the Maldonado case, the Government defended without nuances the actions of the Prefecture in Villa Mascardi. The Security Minister, Patricia Bullrich, today a candidate for the October presidential elections, assured that the Mapuches had attacked first with heavy weapons and defended the officers who said they had fired “dissuasive shots” to evict the group. “It was a legal and legitimate action as opposed to an illegal, violent and unacceptable action for the democracy of a people who want to live in peace,” Bullrich said two days later, on November 27. The Government promoted the version that there was a confrontation and the prosecution, according to the crimes imputed to the agents, followed that version.
Agents Sergio Guillermo Cavia, Francisco Javier Pintos, Carlos Valentín Sosa, Sergio Damián García and Juan Ramón Obregón are being prosecuted for “aggravated homicide committed in excess of legitimate defense.” The first as author and the other four as necessary participants. The complaint will seek to prosecute the five as co-authors of the murder.
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