Former winners of a prestigious environmental award, along with Amnesty International and the lawyer for indigenous land rights defender Alberto Curamil, have launched an appeal for Curamil’s safety after he was seriously injured in a police shooting.
Curamil, a Mapuche indigenous leader who in 2019 won the Goldman Environmental Award (GEP), also known as the “Green Nobel”, was left with 18 riot-control shotgun pellets embedded in his body after police chased his truck and opened fire following a protest against arson in a Mapuche house in disputed lands in southern Chili.
Former GEP winners Craig Williams and Alfred Brownell are writing to Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera and the country’s ambassador to the United States, Alfonso Silva Navarro, to push for further investigation into the shooting.
Amnesty International will contact the Chilean Department of Justice to seek answers to questions about the attack and the burning of the house of Mapuche community spokesperson Elena Paine, which sparked the protest where Curamil was injured.
The Curamil shooting comes 18 months after Chilean authorities sought to jail him for 50 years for armed robbery in 2019, despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Environmental defenders said the charges were aimed at silencing their activism, prompting high-ranking members of the international community, including a UN special rapporteur on human rights, to appeal to the court for a fair case. He was unanimously acquitted of all charges, which arose less than two years after he successfully applied for and halted construction of two hydroelectric projects on a sacred river in 2016, for which he received the GEP.
The Curamil shooting has renewed calls for protection and concerned environmental supporters. A growing list of deaths in high-profile cases after attempts to address environmental damage includes two GEP winners: Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in 2016, protested against dams in Honduras, and Isidro Baldenegro, who was assassinated. shots in 2017, he opposed illegal logging in Mexico.
Curamil attended a protest on April 29 near the town of Perquenco in the Araucanía region, where most of Chile’s 1.5 million Mapuches live. La Araucanía has witnessed decades of land disputes between indigenous rights defenders, the Chilean state, and corporate landowners. Protesters used burning tires to block the Pan-American Highway, a regular form of protest aimed at disrupting Chile’s road freight system, in support of Paine. Paine said she had received anonymous threats before her home was destroyed.
“This was a peaceful protest with the families,” Curamil said. “If women and children are invited, there is never the intention to commit acts of violence.
“The police came with all their power, shooting at point-blank range, trying to kill us. We got out and, as I was driving away, a police van chased us, caught up with us from behind and started shooting. My teenage son and nephew were in the trailer and ducked to avoid being shot.
“A tear gas canister went through the back window and suffocated me, so I stopped. As soon as I got my leg out of the vehicle, I felt a shotgun blast hit my left thigh and then a second blast to the back. A tear gas canister hit me on the back and knocked me to the ground. They fired from less than 3 meters away. The Carabinieri [Chilean police force] he beat me while they handcuffed me and asked me who I was. I think they attacked me, they had their man. “
Curamil, his 18-year-old nephew, and their 16-year-old son were arrested and released the next day. Manuela Royo, a lawyer for Curamil, said the three face a trial for public disorder. “The prosecution is investigating, but to date no charges have been brought against any police,” he said.
Doctors have removed some of the pellets from Curamil’s body, but four remain on his torso and leg because they are deeply embedded.
Piñera’s coalition government was heavily criticized in 2020 for the misuse of non-lethal weapons by the state against protesters, amid reports of thousands of human rights abuses during the country’s social uprising in 2019. The pellets used Against Curamil were rubber coated ball bearings and can be fatal or maim when fired at close range, violating manufacturer guidelines.
Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, famous for ordering the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean Human Rights Commission (CHDH), the American Association of Jurists (AAJ) and the Centro di Ricerca ed Elaborazione per la Democrazia (CRED) have written to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, accusing Piñera of “crimes against humanity” committed since October 2019.
Craig Williams, who won the GEP in 2006 after his work against chemical weapons stocks in the US, said: “What is happening to a fellow Goldman Environmental Prize winner is intolerable. A concerted effort is being made between government officials, the international NGO community, and human rights organizations to shed light on this situation in order to prevent further violence against Alberto and the Mapuche people ”.
In its most recent report, Global Witness recorded the highest number of land and environmental defenders killed in a single year, with 212 people killed in 2019, more than four per week. Francisca Stuardo of Global Witness said: “The violence and criminalization Alberto has faced is shameful and appalling, but too familiar to those who protect our planet, particularly indigenous people.”
Ana Piquer, Executive Director of Amnesty International Chile, said: “Our experience shows that when Mapuche leaders are accused of crimes, in those cases the investigations are quick and many times they violate due process. But when Mapuche leaders are attacked, be it by the police or other actors, justice tends to be slow and rarely yields results, and those acts end in impunity. “
A spokesman for the Chilean police, Carabineros de Chile, said the arrest they made was legal.