The Río Negro Province village of Villa Mascardi was gripped by arson, occupation and conflict this week after a gang of Mapuche attackers faced off with the Federal Police and successfully seized land.
The clashes took place just a few days after militants linked to the Lafken Winkul Mapu community burned down a Border Guard hut at the Los Radales lot in the southern village, also subjecting it to gunfire.
News that the group had eventually seized the lot met with anger from opposition politicians, who strongly criticised the national government. Former Security minister Patricia Bullrich, who now chairs the PRO centre-right party, also alleged that controversial Mapuche leader Facundo Jones Huala, a fugitive from justice in Chile, was on the spot.
The incidents in the Villa Mascardi zone and in particular at the property owned by local resident Luis Dates remained unresolved as the week drew to an end. The area has been gripped by turmoil – the main house was burned down in early August while last weekend the Patagonian Border Guard base installed there suffered the same fate. As of Tuesday, squatters had moved in.
Local reports chronicling the details described the security forces guarding the place as being expelled by a “hooded group” from the Mapuche community. The fact came to light after a Bariloche judge had ordered an investigation of what happened there last Sunday.
When the Federal Police arrived there with professional experts, they were attacked and stoned by the hooded members of the community who forced the police out, finally overrunning the zone and taking control of the main building which they had burned down on August 1.
"We feel abandoned by the state, which is an accomplice and looks the other way," Dates told the FM Delta radio station, citing other previous violent situations and blaming the government.
There have been conflicts between local residents and these Mapuche groups for at least a decade and they have become recurrent in the vicinity of Villa Mascardi.
Argentina’s National Security Ministry has officially formed a command to guard the zone (consisting of the Río Negro provincial police, the Federal Police, the airport police and the Coast and Border Guards), but the so-called "Mapuche resistance" continues to prevail.
There has been greater tension since the self-styled Lafken Winkul Mapu community settled down there in 2017, claiming the area is theirs by ancestral birthright.
Bullrich criticised the Frente de Todos government with reference to the week’s various conflicts, commenting that “this country is now lawless” and that “the Constitution does not protect anybody.”
The PRO leader affirmed that the Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche (RAM) leader Jones Huala was now in the conflict zone of Villa Mascardi after crossing the frontier and hinted that he could have been part of last Sunday’s arson. She did not reveal how she knew the information.
Jones Huala has been a fugitive from justice in Chile since February 15 when he should have presented himself to a Temuco court after 24 days of conditional release.
Bullrich repudiated the Mapuche attacks in Patagonia and held the national government responsible since “the federal forces are ordered to take no action and let things ride.”
“They must be dislodged and the [Border Guard] post restored so that the citizens of Villa Mascardi [the scene of the latest attacks] can rebuild their houses. The state is responsible,” she added, concluding: “If the authorities do not react, we’re going to lose part of our territory to extremists.”
A Río Negro Mapuche community leader denied that indigenous people would attack property.
In radio statements, community leader Orlando Carriqueo complained that "the provincial governments have halted all title deeds to the communities, there are no more land surveys in Río Negro."
"The timid national government is yielding to their pressures, violating human rights. They are preparing a propitious framework, as Patricia Bullrich did with her RAM report, to cover repression and seek deaths," assured Carriqueo, who recalled that there were "two deaths in territorial conflicts in the last five years: Rafael Nahuel and Elías Garay."
The Mapuche representative sees it as "a political and social conflict of Argentine history," he observed, pointing out that "the zone is monitored and communications are being tapped."
"The national government should take away its mask of hypocrisy to treat the conflicts with communities in equal fashion," he declared.