ROSARIO, Argentina – A group of indigenous peoples in southern Argentina has illegally occupied land belonging to the Diocese of San Isidro.
Although there is a court order telling them to leave the grounds, they have refused to move and instead have written Pope Francis, asking him to intervene.
The indigenous Mapuche community lives in southern areas of Argentina and Chile. There are an estimated 200,000 Mapuche in Argentina, with over 1.7 million in Chile. Some Mapuche groups seek to establish a homeland in territories covering both countries.
The contents of the letter from the Mapuche has not been made public.
However, the coordinator of the Mapuche Tehuelche of Rio Negro community, Orlando Carriqueo, said that they’d conveyed to the pope “our concern about the imminence of the eviction of the community and we met with the Bishop of Bariloche to seek an alternative solution, in which acts of violence do not occur.”
Although the occupied land is owned by the diocese of San Isidro – which is located in Greater Buenos Aires and led by Bishop Óscar Vicente Ojea, the president of the country’s bishops conference – it is located in the southern Diocese of Bariloche.
“Generating an eviction in these circumstances could lead to a breakdown in dialogue with the national government and the conflict over land could be accentuated throughout Patagonia, with events that can be avoidable through dialogue and the recognition of a history of dispossession to which all the native peoples of America have been exposed,” Carriqueo told Argentine online publication Infobae.
Though condemned by the majority of the Mapuche community, violent attacks by members of the group sometimes take place against neighbors in southern Argentina, especially close to Bariloche, a tourist hotpot popular for its ski resorts.
Carriqueo questioned the judicial decision to evict the families that occupied the Cabin Hueche Ruca, which is used as a retreat house by the Diocese of San Isidro.
In their letter to the pope, the Mapuche reportedly noted that back in 2017, a member of their tribe, Rafael Nahuel, died in a clash with authorities close to the diocesan property. The indigenous insist that Nahuel was assassinated with a shot in the back during a judicially mandated eviction.
“It is an open wound for our people because it is a crime without culprits,” Carriqueo said.
They hand-delivered the letter the Bishop Juan Jose Chaparro of Bariloche, asking him to send it to the pope. They also sent a copy of the letter to Ojea.
The land owned by the San Isidro diocese is next to 14 acres of a national park that the a group of Mapuche families occupied three years ago, citing a “territorial claim.”
The group that has occupied the diocesan property is called the Lafken Winkul Mapu, one of the most violent associations in southern Argentina.
The population of the nearby cities of Bariloche and Villa Mascardi have complained that members of Lafken Winkul Mapu have attacked police officers, tourists, and even passersby.
In defending the Mapuche, Carriqueo quoted Francis, noting the pope often speaks of “social peace, justice for those who have less, not to be quiet and to create a havoc.”
Carriqueo said the Mapuche want dialogue.
“Building a path of dialogue and understanding so that two differing visions of the cosmos can come together, is a responsibility the largest weight of which falls over those who have historically exercised oppression and power, in this case, the State and the Church. This is the path we must follow so that we can definitively achieve social peace,” he said.
Although the Diocese of San Isidro has officially filed a complaint asking for the Mapuche to be evicted from the property, on Oct. 26 it said they want the eviction to be delayed until it can be performed peacefully.
Sources close to the Argentine church told Crux that the events are “extremely complicated” and they are unsure they will ever get the land back. There are also questions on whether the occupiers are actually members of the Mapuche tribe.