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Sadık Çelik, an independent photojournalist, correspondent and member of the news team at the Kedistan webzine, was attacked in Argentinian Patagonia.
If I’m writing this article, it is not only in support of our comrade and colleague Sadık Çelik. It is also to denounce the attack against a journalist doing his job, and to try yet again to emphasize the very real danger these women and these men encounter in order to document the struggles of indigenous peoples fighting and dying against the multinationals and their colonialist relays, encouraged in the region by corrupt governments and militarists. The struggle for the land, the culture, for existence in itself, led by the colonized peoples of centralized states, expropriated by colonists, is a struggle that concerns us all, because it is also about the destruction of natural life surroundings, of biodiversity, all for the benefit of industrial systems of globalized agrobusiness, on territories where indigenous populations lived under a different model.
Sadık is currently in immersion with the Mapuche people for a reportage on these indigenous peoples of Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia.
On August 7 2022, around 2 PM, while in the company of the Mapuche activist Ingrid Soledad Cayunao and of her young son in the region of Arroyo Las Minas, in the province of Río Negro, matters heated up as they strolled for purposes of discovering locations for reporting.
The small group was on a trail in Mapuche lands when they were attacked and threatened by a security guard of a ranch who stood in their way.
Ingrid Soledad Cayunao reports on the aggression: “We were using a local road that opens up on the river, and where there is a ranch signalled by a panel reading “Establecimiento Sapucay” (Sapucay Establishment). This is where we encountered Miguel Alberto Gonzales, the guard for a couple of foreigners, Tammy Robaina and Dominique. This guard follows orders of these strangers, now “occupying” this area.
First we heard some warning cries from guard Gonzales then he approached us. At first there were a few brief exchanges of words with me, then, seeing Sadık had a camera, Gonzales took a willow branch to strike his horse, frighten him and cause Sadık to fall off. At first the horse didn’t react then he reared. Then, Gonzales attempted to grab the camera but in vain. He caught hold of Sadık by his poncho and pulled violently to make him fall. The horse turned with Sadık suspended on its flank, one foot caught in the stirrup. Gonzalez went on attacking him, while Sadık was suspended. We tried to dismount Sadık and while my son attempted to catch the horse, the animal almost crossed the river, still trailing Sadık whose foot was caught, and thus in a very dangerous position for the journalist…”
Ingrid Soledad Cayunao details the exchanges between herself and Gonzales which turned into serious threats…
“At first, we exchanged a few words, and I spoke politely. Then he told me “you continue like this, you’ll end up like in Cuesta del Ternero” referring to the assassination of Elías Garay, a young Mapuche activist, killed in November 2021 in Cuesta del Ternero.”
In order for you to understand the seriousness of the threats made by Gonzalez, I will provide some details on the context. This requires a bit of a rewind in the reel of time…
The assassination of Elías Garay
On November 21 2021, in the Argentinian province of Río Negro, 15 kilometers from El Bolson, Elías Garay Yem, a young 29 year old Mapuche was assassinated and Gustavo Cabrera, 26, suffered bullet wounds. Both of them belonging to the community of Lof Quemquemtreu, these youths were among the Mapuche re-occupying their lands since September, on the site of Cuesta del Ternero. Elías died a few seconds later due to the seriousness of his wounds, Gustavo, hit by two bullets in the abdomen recovered following surgery and several days spent in the hospital of Bariloche.
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Photographer Anibal Aguaisol’s lens and the revolt in Patagonia
This homicide occurred in the middle of a conflict ongoing for over a month in the region of Río Negro and which the provincial government had decided, as one can best describe as: “not to resolve”.
On September 18, the members of Lof Quemquemtrew proposed an action in the framework of “returning to lands uninhabited for decades” and that were “left to the mercy of building, forest and hydraulic interests polluting the region.” The Rocco family enterprise, in possession of a contested concession there for the planting of pine trees, had begun work.
Following the announcement of the action, the Cuesta del Ternero territories were occupied by the Mapuche. The “owner” Rolando Rocco, a businessman holding the concession and exploiting these lands, demanded their expulsion. Six days later, despite an agreement not to use force, prosecutor Betiana Cendón ordered an operation during which four people were arrested, along with partial expulsions. The members of the community denounced the fact they were targeted both with rubber bullets and live ammunition, the stealing of their possession and the attack of a minor. Then a tactical group of the provincial police organized a siege with isolating controls, with no possibility for those thus barricaded to receive food.
In this context of heightened tension, on Sunday November 21, two people armed with 22 caliber rifles, Martín Feilberg and Diego Ravasio, entered this space guarded by security forces. Intercepted by members of the Mapuche community on location, the two men replied they “were on their way to their place of work.” They were thus collaborators of Rocco. A dispute erupted and the two men fired, assassinating Elías Garay Yem and wounding Gustave Cabrera. The two accused were taken into custody and put on an ongoing trial for “homicide with intention to kill”.
Following these incidents, tensions intensified and the indigenous people, profoundly affected, called for justice over what had happened. The response from the government of Río Negro was to state that the provincial police had not been involved in the incident.
On November 23 in a video shown on social networks, Moira Millan, Mapuche leader from the “Indigenous women’s movement for good living” denounced the fact that on November 22, members of the community who attempted to enter the Lof to bid a final goodbye to Elías were also pushed back: “police responded to the right of burial with bullet’s”, she underlined. The Mapuche community then held an online press conference, in which it specified its concrete demands. After this, the activists occupying the lands allowed experts and the prosecutor in to see the body and allow for its transfer.
Two weeks after the beginning of the conflict, the provincial prosecutor finally convened a table for a dialogue with Rocco, the prosecutors and the community, acknowledging the Mapuche representatives as actors in the conflict. The Province decided not to participate in these meetings, but up until the day of the crime, talks had progressed more or less…
Part of the conflicts with the Mapuche communities in Patagonia is linked to the province of Río Negro not respecting the Emergency law on indigenous territory (26,160). This law, which is now 15 years old, requires that an investigation be conducted on all territories claimed by the original peoples. But, in Río Negro, only 55 out of the 106 communities were questioned, which led to a situation of judicial powerlessness for all those not figuring on the list. To this fragile situation must be added the fact that this law of exception, which expired this week, had to be prorogated in its current condition by the executive branch, since it had not been treated by the deputies prior to the end of its term.
On the other hand, Río Negro also has a provincial law recognizing indigenous property (2,287) which it does not respect either. The application of the norm would facilitate regulation on these lands and could attenuate a number of conflicts..
In many cases, occupations of lands considered by the Mapuche communities as a “reclaiming” are used and instrumentalized by various actors interested in promoting the idea of “Mapuche violence”, by criminalizing their legitimate struggle for their ancestral lands. But, at the same time, they constitute actions that attempt to render visible conflicts that otherwise, would be reduced to silence given the private overtaking occurring on the ground. Th State’s lack of will to guarantee rights already recognized and to extend policies of restitution also lead to conflicts and protests.
Soledad pursues her testimony: “Elías who lost his life in Cuesta del Ternero, by the hand of violent people, had us fearing that the same might happen again. The words spoken by Gonzales were so worrisome, because we know from his own comments that he is usually armed, although I saw no firearm on that day.
A part of our exchanges were recorded by the camera that was still on. A few of the exchanges don’t show up because the horse had gone further and I had told my son to help Sadık. At that point Gonzalez said to me :‘You’re lucky to be with your son, or else there would be a [body] floating on the river’.”
We can’t avoid finding in these words a reference to the forced disappearance of the young Argentinian activist Santiago Maldonado, on August 1st 2017, whose body was discovered on October 18 in the Chubut river.
Soledad added: “Gonzales also said to me that he knew the people I was meeting in El Bolson, knew I was in contact with leading personalities in the Mapuche struggle, and he said these people would be going through unpleasant moments.
What I wanted him to understand is that for us, as members of the Mapuche people, what happened with Elías at Cuesta del Ternero is very serious, and even more serious the fact he uses this grave incident to threaten us. It is still an open wound, very recent, and his words generated real fear in us. We truly think that these people are capable of putting their threats to execution.
I also wish to say that during the discussion, I said to Gonzalez that I was aware of the abuses they were committing on Mapuche territory, that they were using these lands for tourism, without asking the authorization from any of the neighbors. They enter our territory that does not belong to them and they exploit it for tourism. Above all, our presence angers them. In fact, they refuse to admit these are Mapuche territories and that we are the locals here..”
Finally, Soledad’s son managed to catch the horse and calm him down, avoiding a death by drowning in the river. Sadık came out of it with internal wounding to the hip. After treatment at the hospital and a medical report, a complaint was filed at the provincial prosecutor’s office.
Nothing further can be done, except to wait with the hope that Argentinian justice is not like the one in Turkey…
Of course, we have the documents such as the medical report, the complaint, the testimonials.
Finally, is there need to recall the death of the British journalist Dom Phillips and of the Brazilian expert Bruno Pereira, who for their part, disappeared in Amazonia, officially “assassinated by fishermen”? In their case, Bolsonaro declared that getting involved in dangerous matters carried risks one had to bear.
We could take the narrow view in documenting these questions and reducing them to land disputes between original peoples and so-called “modernism”. Turn them into “local” cases, in other words. But the “modernism”, precisely, has a face, and sometimes the names of corporations — mining, agro-business, forestry, hydraulics… And systematically, that face is the one of capitalist predation and of the ravages caused to the planet, to the humans inhabiting it and to ecosystems.
And even if this violent incident, accompanied by threats, could appear as an isolated instance, it is precisely in order to demonstrate the opposite that our friend and Kedistan columnist has immersed himself for the third time among a People fighting for its Rights.
» To read articles by Sadık Çelik, click here…
Cover photo: excerpt from the video. Miguel Alberto Gonzalez in “action”…
Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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