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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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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.