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Dur­ing the month of Decem­ber, riots broke out against the large scale min­ing done in Argenti­na at La Rio­ja, Deca­mar­ca and Rio Negro in the province of Chubut, locat­ed in the Patag­on­ian region — Puel Mapu. This was the sec­ond major Patag­on­ian upris­ing since the great labor rebel­lion of 1921.

Min­ing activ­i­ty began in the region in 2002 with the Merid­i­an Gold Com­pa­ny. The firm attempt­ed to expro­pri­ate this zone. How­ev­er, thanks to a suc­cess­ful counter-cam­paign by the region’s inhab­i­tants, the min­ing com­pa­ny was forced to cease its activ­i­ties and to leave the region that same year.

Then the Chubut provin­cial assem­bly pro­hib­it­ed this type of project in bill n° 5001.

How­ev­er, in 2007, the same firm made a new approach under a dif­fer­ent name. Once again, it faced fero­cious oppo­si­tion from the peo­ples of the region.

Cur­rent­ly, it is a Cana­di­an firm, Yamana Gold, which wish­es to seek for gold in the region, with sup­port from the provin­cial gov­ern­ment. This ter­ri­cide devel­oped in har­mo­ny with gov­ern­men­tal neolib­er­al poli­cies exas­per­at­ed the patience of Patag­on­ian peo­ples and a social revolt explod­ed. This rebel­lion has tak­en on anoth­er dimen­sion, by link­ing up with the strug­gle of the Mapuche com­mu­ni­ties attempt­ing to “reha­bil­i­tate” their ances­tral lands.

The reap­pro­pri­a­tion of Mapuche lands which began at Lof Quin­triqueo was thwart­ed dur­ing the months of Octo­ber and Novem­ber by spe­cial gen­darmerie forces and thanks to the cur­rent mil­i­ta­riza­tion led by the provin­di­al gov­er­nor­ship. All com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Mapuche com­mu­ni­ty were shut down. The com­mu­ni­ty was aban­doned to a fate of cold, hunger and  des­ti­tu­tion. In response, the local com­mu­ni­ties estab­lished a sol­i­dar­i­ty anti-blo­cus camp in the region, in order to put an end to the mil­i­ta­riza­tion and free the com­mu­ni­ty. Sev­er­al weeks lat­er, the resis­tance end­ed, fol­low­ing nego­ti­a­tions with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, with a promise of the lift­ing of the blockade.

How­ev­er, a few days lat­er, on Novem­ber 25 2021, two para­mil­i­taries, who had been infil­trat­ed at Lof Quin­triqueo, assas­si­nat­ed by bul­let a Mapuche resis­tant fight­er named Elías Garay, and seri­ous­ly wound­ed anoth­er of his com­rades.  Fol­low­ing this mur­der, large protest demon­stra­tions took place  in Esquel, one of the most impor­tant towns in the province of Chubut. Dur­ing these same days, the law on mines was pre­sent­ed for approval to the par­lia­ment and a great rebel­lion erupt­ed. The threads of resis­tance con­verged and spread out to the entire province. Gov­ern­men­tal offices, the office of the pros­e­cu­tor, police and gen­darmerie build­ings were torched. The rebel­lion last­ed five days and the bill was final­ly with­drawn. How­ev­er, the demon­stra­tors, main­ly anar­chists and Mapuche, announced they would not be leav­ing the streets if the provin­cial gov­ern­ment did not resign.

The local press was not the one that com­mu­ni­cat­ed this sec­ond Patag­on­ian upris­ing to inter­na­tion­al pub­lic opin­ion, but rather the pho­tog­ra­ph­er activists and the users of social networks.

Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Aníbal Aguaisol is one of these peo­ple who trans­mit­ted this his­tor­i­cal rebel­lion to the world, with his mag­nif­i­cent snap­shots and his tes­ti­mo­ni­als dur­ing the days of the rebel­lion. We spoke about it with him.

Hel­lo, Aníbal Aguaisol. Could you give a brief pre­sen­ta­tion of yourself?

My name is Aníbal Aguaisol, I am 43 years old and I live in Trelew, a town locat­ed in the East of Chubut province, in Argen­tin­ian Patag­o­nia. My main activ­i­ty is not pho­tog­ra­phy: I have a diplo­ma in psy­chol­o­gy, I work in a hos­pi­tal and I also teach at the university.

A few years ago, I began mov­ing into pho­to-jour­nal­ism, by record­ing prob­lems and social con­flicts in Patag­o­nia. For the past year, I have been part of a group of pho­tog­ra­phers called “LUAN ‑Colec­ti­va de Acción Fotográ­fi­ca”, a group attempt­ing to bring vis­i­bil­i­ty to the strug­gles tak­ing place all over Patagonia.

As an Argen­tin­ian pho­tog­ra­ph­er, how does it feel being in Patag­o­nia, Puel Mapu, the native lands of the Mapuche ? How do you approach the his­tor­i­cal, social, cul­tur­al and eth­no-eco­log­i­cal prob­lems of the Mapuche people?

Aníbal AguaisolAlthough I am not a Mapuche, I have been accom­pa­ny­ing the strug­gles of this nation for a cer­tain time as they resist with dig­ni­ty against the attacks of landown­ers, multi­na­tion­als and the Argen­tin­ian gov­ern­ment. I try to con­tribute to this strug­gle through pho­tog­ra­phy, by depict­ing a real­i­ty tra­di­tion­al media attempt to hide, since the hege­mon­ic dis­cours­es describe the Mapuche as vio­lent ter­ror­ists. I feel hon­ored that my Mapuche broth­ers and sis­ters have allowed me to feel like one of their own, open­ing their arms to me and giv­ing me the required con­fi­dence to pho­to­graph their struggles.

Along with oth­er inde­pen­dent pho­tog­ra­phers, we attempt to chal­lenge through images the mean­ing ascribed to them by the hege­mon­ic media, which they usu­al­ly do by hid­ing the vio­lence of the State and of its repres­sive forces; we also attempt to show aspects of the Mapuche ances­tral cul­ture, such as their link to the land and the ter­ri­to­ry they have inhab­it­ed his­tor­i­cal­ly, for example.

In order to con­duct this task,  we have gone into the com­mu­ni­ties not only to doc­u­ment them pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly but also in order to accom­pa­ny these strug­gles, as we dit in Quemquemtrew and Yalalaubat.

Per­son­al­ly, I feel ter­ri­bly pow­er­less when I see the injus­tices, the abuse and the sub­jec­tion imposed on these dig­ni­fied peo­ple and their just strug­gles. I feel much admi­ra­tion for the mem­bers of a peo­ple ready to sac­ri­fice their life to defend their cul­ture and their ter­ri­to­ry. I also was moved very deeply by the pain of lives the State took away through its repres­sive poli­cies, such as that of San­ti­a­go Mal­don­a­do or of Rafa Nahuel, but even more deeply that of Weichafe Elías Garay since I shared his final days and was torn up by his assassination.

I have the feel­ing that, despite the fact hun­dreds of years have gone by, some things have not changed in Patag­o­nia; the per­se­cu­tion of indige­nous peo­ples is one of them.

All the pho­tos you took of the Elías inci­dent as well as those of the upris­ing in the mega-mines of Chubut raised ques­tions in all quar­ters, includ­ing those who did not under­stand cor­rect­ly the rela­tion­ship between Patag­o­nia and the Mapuche. How do you explain this situation?

I believe images hold a very impor­tant pow­er in the times we are liv­ing, and con­sti­tute very pow­er­ful tools in order to trans­mit a mes­sage, per­haps even more so than writ­ten texts. We, pho­tog­ra­phers and jour­nal­ists in alter­na­tive media, have grown a lot dur­ing these last years and we find our­selves work­ing in order to organ­ise in defi­ance of the pow­er exer­cised by hege­mon­ic media. I think that, in Qemquemtrew as well as in the pop­u­lar revolt in Chubut, some of us, pho­tog­ra­phers, have man­aged to obtain very pow­er­ful images which explic­it­ly evi­dence the lev­el of repres­sion, of vio­lence, of injus­tice and of asym­me­try: for instance, I recall pho­tos of defence­less Mapuche women howl­ing in front of police armed to the teeth; of Elías and his pure and lov­ing gaze; or of the vio­lent repres­sion of the police in Chubut, images so explic­it and pow­er­ful that they man­aged to break through what we call the “media encirclement”.

  • Aníbal Aguaisol Elias Garay

Final­ly, a small vic­to­ry was won in the lift­ing of the mega-mine of Chubut. This will pro­vide a new source of moral­i­ty for peo­ple who love an eco­log­i­cal social world. I think this his­tor­i­cal rebel­lion last­ed 5 days in total. Can you tell me what you observed and felt as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er dur­ing those 5 days?

Those 5 days were tru­ly an unprece­dent­ed pop­u­lar revolt in Patag­o­nia: the entire pop­u­la­tion went down into the street to repu­di­ate  the government’s extrac­tivist poli­cies, despite the vio­lent repres­sion by the police dur­ing all this period.

Con­trary to jour­nal­ists from the hege­mon­ic media, we doc­u­ment­ed every­thing by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the demon­stra­tions and I believe this allowed us to cap­ture images of the front lines of the resis­tance, as well as tak­ing close-up shots of the repres­sive forces. I par­tic­i­pat­ed in this his­tor­i­cal process not only as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er but also as a social activist opposed to this gov­ern­ment and to extrac­tivist policies.

I was hap­py to see the uni­ty and dig­ni­ty of neigh­bours who did not back away, even when faced with all of the province’s secu­ri­ty forces that did not stop shoot­ing dur­ing these 5 days.

I also expe­ri­enced fear because I thought many peo­ple could be hurt or even killed (luck­i­ly, we did not have to deplore any deaths). I was struck by two rub­ber bul­lets while doing my job and my pho­tog­ra­ph­er col­leagues were also wound­ed, but I think it was worth it, because we pho­tographed a his­tor­i­cal event that will live on in mem­o­ries for years as a vic­to­ry of the people.

What brought you to this his­tor­i­cal moment?

I was born in Cor­do­ba, a province in cen­tral Argenti­na, far from Patag­o­nia. In 2006, we came to this ter­ri­to­ry with my fam­i­ly and took root here. Since our arrival, I have par­tic­i­pat­ed active­ly in all the social strug­gles, not only over water but also for minor­i­ty rights, of indige­nous peo­ples and against extrac­tivism. I have always been with my cam­era, attempt­ing to vis­it what peo­ple nev­er see when informed by the dom­i­nant media. I believe my his­to­ry of mil­i­tan­cy and social par­tic­i­pa­tion led me “nat­u­ral­ly” to involv­ing myself in the his­tor­i­cal events we are liv­ing in Patag­o­nia. I am con­vinced that we are liv­ing a his­tor­i­cal time of change, of ris­ing aware­ness in peo­ple and I feel priv­i­leged in being able to doc­u­ment this process in which I also feel myself to be one of the protagonists.

What are your influ­ences and inspi­ra­tion as a photographer?

I am not a pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er and have no offi­cial train­ing in pho­tog­ra­phy. The cam­era entered my life as a tool for my social mil­i­tan­cy: it is the means I found in order to con­tribute to caus­es in which I am active and in which I believe. My work is quite intu­itive and unre­fined, I must admit, so I began study­ing recent­ly to improve the pho­tos I take.

I am con­vinced that my mas­ters have been and are Patag­on­ian pho­tog­ra­phers with whom I share the mil­i­tan­cy and the street: it is through their work that I learn and feed myself. They are the ones I admire, I respect and trust.

In con­clu­sion, is there any­thing you wish to add?

I wish to thank you from the bot­tom of my heart for hav­ing invit­ed me to talk to you through these ques­tions, and express my deep admi­ra­tion for your work.

Thank you very much Aníbal Aguaisol.

> To fol­low Aníbal Aguaisol on social net­works: Twit­ter @anibalaguaisol, Face­book, Intsagram @anibalaguaisol

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Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Sadık Çelik
REDACTION | Journaliste 
Pho­tographe activiste, lib­er­taire, habi­tant de la ZAD Nddl et d’ailleurs. Aktivist fotoğrafçı, lib­ert­er, Notre Dame de Lan­des otonom ZAD böl­gesinde yaşıy­or, ve diğer otonom bölge ve mekan­lar­da bulunuyor.