Activate - Chile''s most wanted
As a graduate of journalism Pascual uses his media skills to further the Mapuche cause [Al Jazeera]

Chile’s first ‘terrorist’

This is the story of how a 17-year-old Mapuche activist became the first person to be convicted of terrorism in Chile.

I am in a car with a terrorist – at least that is if I am to believe the Chilean courts.

Branded a ‘terrorist’ by Chile’s government at the age of 17, 28-year-old Pascual Pichun is a man on a mission.

And I am here to film him.

Pascual has become a symbol of the indigenous Mapuche resistance movement, which is trying to protect and reclaim its ancestral lands from the Chilean government and foreign companies.

A traveller with a cause, Pascual is constantly on the move – recording human rights violations against his Mapuche community.

We are accompanied on our journey by Pascual’s brother, Luis.

Much of the Mapuche’s ancestral land was given to foreign landowners in the 1970s, during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Ever since, the Mapuche have been engaged in an uphill struggle to regain possession of it.

Forced into US-style ‘Indian reservations’, the Mapuche learned to get by working as temporary farm labourers.

But Pascual tells me the now famous story of one Mapuche farmer who, many years ago, grew so incensed by this situation that he took back the land expropriated from his father by force.

That farmer was Don Juan Pichun – Pascual’s father.

Many years may have passed since Don Juan’s brave stand, but Pascual and Luis are continuing the family tradition of resistance.

As we pass one house, Luis jokes: “Surely it belongs to a ‘Huinca’?”

“What,” I ask “is a ‘Huinca’?”

“Well,” Luis responds with a half-smile “the Incas invaded us before the Spanish came. Inca means invader. The invaders that came after the Incas were called the New Incas, or Huinca, the Europeans. All of them are Huincas.” 

None of this makes it into my film, Chile’s Most Wanted. In the three weeks I spent with Pascual he was constantly getting into trouble – more than enough trouble to fill a 25-minute film.

But let us go back to the beginning.

I chose Pascual Pichun to be the main character in my film because he has been a symbol of the Mapuche indigenous struggle since he was 17. It was at this young age that he was imprisoned for setting fire to a pine plantation, in a concerted effort with his brother and father to take back their ancestral land.

For the Chilean courts, the protection of private property is the most important factor when handing out sentences to Mapuche activists. Their political argument does not count. Every court ruling is influenced by the anti-terror laws imposed by Pinochet’s military dictatorship back in 1973.

Pascual’s parents suffered the brunt of the repression.

Many Mapuche community leaders were Socialists and experienced disappearances, torture and death in concentration camps.

There is a connection, explains Pascual, between the neo-liberal policies introduced by the military regime and the enforcement of the private property rights of foreign corporations in Chile.

“There’s a very visible link,” he says. “At the heart of it lies our right to self-determination as a people. We want our Mapuche Nation to stand upright and fight back for our land, our culture, our language. Getting the land back is just the first step. Then you open up a school to teach the Mapuche language. We need to come up with a new history course for children and adults because we learnt history from the Huincas and for them we don’t exist.”

Pascual says this as we pull up by a fence in Pilmaiquen. Beyond the fence, we can see their recovered land. Twenty-four hours later we were being interrogated by the anti-terrorist police.