The Chilean documentary filmmaker Elena Varela López has been arrested and is currently being held in Rancagua Prison in central Chile. Over the last four years she has been researching and filming a documentary on the conflict between lumber companies and Chile's Mapuche Indigenous people, over the use of land.
Elena Varela López was arrested on 7 May by police at her home in the Novena region, approximately 620km south of where she is being held. She has been charged with "illegal association with intent to commit an offence".
Amnesty International and other human rights organisations believe that the authorities have arrested Elena Varela López in an attempt to halt investigations into the conflict she is documenting and in an attempt to intimidate her and the Mapuche Indigenous people.
Police confiscated equipment from Elena Varela López's home, including videotapes, sound equipment, stills cameras and mobile phones, and costumes needed for the filming of the documentary. In addition, the arresting officers also took documents relating to the funding of the film by the government agency, the National Audiovisual Fund. Amnesty International fears that this information could be used by Chilean security forces to intimidate and harass Mapuche activists and those who contributed their opinions to the research.
Since March 2008, the authorities have arrested three documentary makers who have spoken out against the conflict between lumber companies and the Mapuche people.
Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Spanish or your own language:
- expressing concern that the arrest of Elena Varela López appears to
be an attempt to intimidate her and other Mapuche activists;
- calling on the authorities to guarantee the safety of all Mapuche activists, and all those named in the research documents confiscated by police;
- noting the concern expressed by the UN Committee on Human Rights about the use of anti-terrorism legislation against members of the Mapuche community, and calling for Chile, as a newly-elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, to uphold human rights for all.
Please forward your appeals to:
President of the Republic of Chile
Señora Presidenta de la República de Chile:
Sra. Michelle Bachelet
Presidencia de la Republica
Palacio de la Moneda
Fax: + 56 2 690 4958
Salutation: Señora Presidenta de la República de Chile
Minister of the Interior
Señor Ministro del Interior:
Sr. Edmundo Pérez Yoma
Ministerio del Interior
Palacio de la Moneda
Fax: + 56 2 699 2165
Salutation: Señor Ministro
Minister of Culture:
Sra. Paulina Urrutia Fernández
Señora Ministra Presidenta del Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes
Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes
Fray Camilo Henríquez 262,
Fax + 56 2 665 0803
Salutation: Señora Ministra
Please do include copies to
National Director of the National Indigenous Development Board (Conadi)
Señor Wilson Reyes Araya
Director Nacional de Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo Indígena - Conadi
Ahumada 48, piso 10
Fax: + 56 2 6721879
Ambassade de la République du Chili
Rue des Aduatiques 106,
Fax : 02.736.49.94
Fax : 02.736.83.26
You can read more about the Elena Varela López case here:
You can see the trailer of Elena Varela López film on YouTube by searching: "Newen mapu che".
In response to the action taken against Elena Varela López, the Chilean film director Patricio Guzman has written the following statement:
DOCUMENTAL Y DEMOCRACIA
If a director decides to make documentary about the Hamas movement in Palestine and receives funding from various television sources in the USA and Europe (public or private), he would have every right to make the film without having to give any explanations to anyone, nor fearing embezzlement accusations, physically attack, humiliation or imprisonment. Yet this is exactly what has occurred to the Chilean filmmaker Elena Varela for making a film about the Mapuche, who do not have arms or ideas even remotely close those of Hamas.
This same freedom to film is essential for filmmakers who are making documentaries about Afghanistan, Corsica, Georgia, Iraq, Bolivia, Belgium, Chechnya, Lebanon, Tibet, Kashmir and many other places where nationalistic movements exist, because the roll of the documentary filmmaker is to film the reality wherever they are.
The Chilean government has applied an anti-terrorism law from the time of Pinochet's regime to jail Elena Varela for making a documentary that denounces the taking of land and the abuses of the Mapuche since the creation of the Republic of Chile, and before by the Spanish. The situation continues under the weak Chilean government who is unable to do anything, letting this treatment continue by turning a blind eye.
Two years ago the Mexican Police beat, robbed, sexually assaulted, imprisoned and later expelled from the country another Chilean filmmaker, Valentina Palma, for making a film about the police oppression in a region near the capital. During this time, I met personally the Minister of Culture, Paulina Urrutia, while she accompanied the president on a trip to Madrid. I passed her an envelope with the details of the case, but nothing happened. The Chilean government could not demand anything from the Mexican government. And now the same is happening for Elena Varela? Who has the evidence that Elena Varela is attacking banks or is a guerrillera like the authorities are saying? And why is she kept incarcerated and out of communication? And why do the police act as if behind Elena Varela's documentary lies a large national conspiracy? Is it that deep in the forests of Mapuches a there is a liberation army preparing an assault on Santiago? Is it possible that the Police will use Elena Varela's images later to accuse the documentary's participants of being criminals? Do they not have the right to express their ideas?
All of this uncovers an alarming lack of freedom of expression, revealing justice procedures and policing that use dictatorial methodology and have nothing to do with a democratic country. How is it possible that we can not stop these dictatorial behaviours in a country considered modern and dynamic, sovereign and with a rule of law? I am indignant that this is occurring in my country; I am indignant as any democrat from any part of the world. I add to the demands of my fellow filmmakers: Free Elena Varela and return her materials.
París, 30 de mayo 2008
[Translated by Andrew Morgan: June 9th, 2008, Malaga, Spain]
Posted: 09 June 2008
An investigative documentary film-maker has been detained after investigating a conflict between the Mapuche Indigenous people and lumber companies over the use of land.
Elena Varela López was filming a documentary which she had been researching for four years, when being imprisoned in Rancagua Prison, central Chile. Police charged Elena with 'illegal association with intent to commit an offence'.
Amnesty International believes that the authorities have arrested her in an attempt to halt investigations into this conflict and to intimidate Elena and the Mapuche Indigenous people.
The arresting officers confiscated equipment from Elena Varela López's home, including videotapes, sound equipment, cameras and mobile phones. They also seized the research and other documents relating to the film.
It is feared that the Chilean security forces could use this information to intimidate and harass Mapuche activists and those who contributed their opinions to the research.
Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director, Tim Hancock said:
'Elena Varela López is the third documentary maker since March of this year to be arrested after daring to investigate this ongoing conflict between the lumber companies and the Mapuche people.
'Her arrest is clearly intended to intimidate anyone who dares to speak out against this conflict.'
In previous years, Amnesty International has reported ill-treatment and harassment of the Mapuche by Chilean police, and has publicly criticised the Chilean authorities for using anti-terrorism law against Indigenous community members fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Tim Hancock continued:
'We remain concerned for the safety of the Mapuche people in Chile, and we would urge the Chilean authorities to guarantee the protection of those who have spoken out in support of the Mapuche people over this ongoing dispute.'