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The building of the Indian as a violent character

There is no repression without demonization. In Argentina, demonizing is being used to place native communities outside the rule of law, so that “counter-terrorist war” can be waged against them. Español

Photo courtesy of Cosecha Roja. All rights reserved. This article is being published as part of the partnership between Cosecha Roja and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here.

The Mapuche have long been the object of political extortion in Argentina. They are asked to either deny their history and conform to the national identity corset, or be considered internal enemies. The price of the Argentine legal hospitality is oblivion and historical renunciation. For those who look at it through the civil code, the Mapuche conflict is a real estate problem. For those who look at it through the criminal code, it is a criminal issue. Both perspectives – this is an old trick – aim at turning social conflicts into legal disputes, at emptying politics out of politics, so as to keep on de-historizing social unrest.

The Mapuche are to be considered Argentine citizens as long as they do not question the legal system that makes them invisible. Otherwise, they risk finding themselves outside the law and being labeled as activists or, worse still, identified as terrorists.

To the State, there are no historical reparations to be made (for the plundering) and no cultural diversity to recognize - only business to be promoted and (private) property to be expanded and protected.

Beneath these conflicts lies a permanent historical dispute that liberal democracy wants to do away with

Revitalizing the conflicts, claiming their millenary lands and the ancestral forests, occupying territories and using self-defense tactics put the Mapuche in a different framework than that of the hyper-real Indian image created by early 20th century classic comic books and, later, by Discovery Chanel.

The current prominence of the Mapuche communities is due not only to an attempt at updating history through a revision of a political past/present that the Argentine State has insisted on negating, but also at highlighting present/future policies as evidenced in neo-extractivism, tourism megaprojects, investors’ speculation and the concentration of land in the hands of a global few. They are not a lost patrol, nor are they disoriented. Beneath these conflicts lies a permanent historical dispute that liberal democracy wants to do away with.

So, given this context, the State equips itself with a new framework to maintain their invisibility by building the character of the violent, terrorist Indian.

There is no repression, or judicialization, without demonization

There is no repression, or judicialization, without demonization. Demonization is built on the basis of long-standing racial prejudices running through Argentine History - founding prejudices, as old as the formation of the national State, which have sedimented and settled in the social imaginary and have now become part of the good citizen’s moral reserve. Suffice it to read the readers’ comments to the news published in the Argentine media to confirm the racism that illustrious citizens hide beneath good manners and world trips. Suffice it to watch TV entertainment programs to realize that social as well as class conflicts continue to be - above all – racial conflicts.

Current demonizing activates punitive passions, class vindictiveness and racist neocolonialism and is being contributed to by both the State and society.

Demonizing aims at denying the Mapuche nation’s existence as a legal subject and at placing the native communities outside the rule of law so as to have an excuse for establishing emergency rule and persecuting them with antiterrorist laws. For the time being, the penal code suffices, but by reading recent press releases of the Ministry of Security and checking statements by senior officials, it is obvious that they are creating the conditions to reproduce the anti-subversive struggle - the war against terrorism. A war waged outside the bounds of legality, through special procedures off international human rights standards. A war waged with a different kind of verbal and lethal pyrotechnics.

Through demonizing, the aim is to turn otherness from a relative quality to an absolute one, to make the Mapuche look and sound so foreign as to render them unintelligible. For, as we know, if they speak a strange language, you cannot talk to them - all you can do is call in the police.

About the author

Esteban Rodríguez Alzueta es docente e investigador de la Universidad Nacional de Quilmes en Argentina y miembro del Colectivo de Investigación y Acción Jurídica (CIAJ).   

Esteban Rodríguez Alzueta is a professor and a researcher at the National University of Quilmes in Argentina and a member of the Research and Legal Action Collective (CIAJ). 


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