Indigenous community protests repressed as clothing giant Benetton takes more land

Peaceful Assembly

On 10th and 11th January, the Argentine National Gendarmerie violently repressed the Mapuche indigenous community of Cushamen in the Chubut province. Community members reported acts of violence perpetrated against women and children seeking refuge in the main ruca house, a traditional Mapuche communal dwelling. Security forces first kept them locked in the house, and later forced their way in. Children were reportedly terrorised by the armed men, women were dragged across the ground, houses were destroyed and animals killed or stolen. At least 10 members of the community and their allies were arrested.

Mapuche communities have mobilised to defend their ancestral territory, which has been increasingly appropriated by international clothing company Benetton. Italian-based Benetton now owns thousands of hectares of land in the Patagonia region of Argentina. Despite the protests, the company has continued to occupy tranditional Mapuche lands with the protection of the local government. Several waves of protest have taken place over the years; most recently, Mapuche demonstrators blocked the railroad used by the tourist train La Trochita.

In separate developments, protestors called for the immediate release of social movement leader Milagro Sala, as the first anniversary of her arrest and imprisonment approached. A demonstration took place in Buenos Aires on 22nd December under the motto "For a Christmas without political prisoners." The protest was organised by the Tupac Amaru group, which is led by Milagro Sala. Among the main participants were the Committee for Freedom of Milagro Sala, the Open Letter Collective, union federations CTA of Workers and ATE Capital, and the Argentine Association of Actors. In addition to demanding Sala's release, protestors also called attention to the police repression of activists attempting to attend a hearing of Milagro Sala's trial in Jujuy on 21st December.

Expression

On 12th December, an office shared by Revista Anfibia and Cosecha Roja - two online media outlets based in Buenos Aires - was broken into. Cosecha Roja is a news website that focuses on covering corruption, abuse of authority and the activities of drug trafficking groups, while Revista Anfibia is well known for its lengthy analytical articles combining investigative journalism and academic research. Regarding the motives for the attack, Anfibia's editor Martin Alé said that although "we are not into paranoia but we are not naive either. Of the 20 offices in this building, it was the one with two media outlets that was targeted. This was an act of theft and an act of vandalism."

Emmanuel Colombié, head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)'s Latin American desk condemned the attack:

“The police and judicial authorities must investigate it thoroughly and not neglect the possibility that it was linked to their journalistic activities. The destruction and theft of equipment and information belonging to media outlets constitute a grave violation of free speech rights. The authorities must crack down firmly on such violations, which are only too common in Argentina, and must prosecute those responsible.” 

Individual reporters were also recently subjected to threats and attacks. On 29th November, journalist Roberto Navarro received a bomb threat while broadcasting his programme "El Destape" (The Uncorking) on Buenos Aires cable television channel C5N. The authorities ordered the channel's building to be evacuated. Navarro said that he receives death threats on a regular basis. 

Another reporter, María Inés Cristante, along with cameraman Fabián Lemma and camera assistant Matías Carrizo, was attacked on 17th December while covering a demonstration. The three of them were beaten, kicked and hit with stones thrown by members of the Unión Tranviarios Automotor, a drivers' union, who were protesting against a transportation company for allegedly unjustified firings and lack of rest time.