Patagonia, mapuche et al.

Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky nestorgoro at
Sat Aug 31 07:51:24 MDT 2002

The _New York Times_ has just informed the whole planet that at least 
a section of the American bourgeoisie would at most be indifferent if 
Patagonia splits from Argentina. A couple of days ago and on a local 
mailing list, an Argentinean mainstream left-wing (that is, an 
opponent of any form of "territorial nationalism" almost by 
definition) biologist who had been in the United States during the 
1982 Battles of the South Atlantic commented his amazement and 
outrage at the easiness with which American military analysts spoke 
on TV of a possible tearing apart of Argentina, both by the South 
(which would be shared between Chile and Great Britain) and by the 
Northeast (which appeared as "weakly linked" with the rest of the 

Reasons for these theories on fragmentation of Argentina are manifold 
and some are not groundless. As to their popular support, it is an 
entirely different history, and I am convinced that the wave that has 
begun to roll in Argentina on December 19 will not allow the 
fragmentators to go a long way ahead.

All and each of these propositions is inextricably linked with 
reactionary positions or interests. The Patagonian case is the most 
obvious one. On a territory of about 1,000,000 sq. km., endowed with 
not enormous but respectable reserves of oil, fresh water, other 
minerals and with a strong potential for specialized crops and 
fishing, there are some 2,000,000 people. The intended goal (and the 
proposition) is to split Argentina along the Colorado River (the 
Northern limit of Patagonia) and to grant these people an 
"independence" from Argentina that, residents are told, would make 
them richer than any current Argentinean.

Of course, this is the voice of the imperialists and particularly the 
voice of the energy-fresh water lobby. Though they are rejected by 
most Patagonian residents (BTW: most of them born and brought up 
outside Patagonia), there are fractions of the local bourgeoisies who 
have been offering their Quisling services to imperialism since at 
least the late 70s, and who have gained momentum during the "colonial 
democracy" period that opened un in 1983 and is slowly coming to a 
close after December, 2001.

It is thus very interesting to discover that at the very core of the 
Patagonian Andes, however, the first nations of Patagonia have a 
completely different programme. 

On today's _Clarín_ of Buenos Aires, a piece of news informs that the 
struggle of the Mapuche communities of Curruhuinca, Vera and Atreuco 
against the Chapelco ski resort for water pollution has been 
succesful, and that the top level ski center has been closed by an 
order from Justice.

Chapelco is a quite hidden touristic jewel in the beautiful North 
Patagonia Andes. The area, originally imagined by the Argentinean 
governments of the late 1800s as a vibrant industrial region, was 
sterilized by oligarchic waste into a very exclusive realm of tourism 
and large, British owned, sheep raising "estancias". The original 
center of touristic development in this South American "Switzerland" 
was the town of Bariloche.

But, with time, and in spite of all the deformations and hindrances 
that imperialism and oligarchy had imposed on the Argentinean 
economic development, Bariloche slowly lost its exclusiveness, became 
more "popular" in character and, finally, became linked to the 
Argentinean effort of industrialization when during the very early 
50s it was designed as the focal point for the national atomic energy 
agency. This agency, which almost immediately spawned into a 
multipurpose scientific and technological agency, was soon joined by 
a local branch of the national Agricultural Technology Institute. 

An increasingly massive tourism was generated by the purchase of 
resorts by the unions during the late 60s (the hotel of the teachers' 
union, for example, is a mini-Paradise, built on the flanks of a 
mountain overloooking the majestic Nahuel Huapí, and with a small 
natural cascade welling out from the walls in the lobby), and  
further increased during the 70s with high-school children on their 
"graduation trips", an otherwise barbaric Argentinean tradition but 
which was also inserted in the general trend towards a popularization 
of tourism in the Bariloche area.

The upper classes thus began to look at different points on the map. 
One of the choice spots was a tiny town to the North of Bariloche, 
San Martín de los Andes. During the late 60s/early 70s, Argentinean 
oligarchs began to fly away from Bariloche and to choose San Martín 
de los Andes, where the Chapelco resort began to grow. A roguish but 
very "classy" airline with touristic concerns, strongly linked with 
the imperialist-driven military government of Lanusse and Onganía, 
began to develop the place. This company, the Austral airline (owner 
of the Soltour tourism company) had been created and systematically 
subsidized by the oligarchic regime in order to "compete" with the by 
then exemplary Argentinean national airline Aerolíneas Argentinas. 
Some of the "owners" of Austral, particularly the Reynal family, were 
also and basically a part of the bankers' lobby here, and were very 
important during the Martínez de Hoz era that opened up in 1976.

While Bariloche had been developed during the late 1920s/early 1930s 
thus with a very strong intervention of the state, Chapelco was thus 
left to open "private" funding and organizing. One of the 
consequences of this was that the resort was built without the most 
elementary respect for the residents around the Chapelco mountain, 
and the sewage works of the winter sports center were systematically 
poured into the creeks that watered the three Mapuche communities 

Finally, after years and years of struggle, the Mapuche (who also 
claim 700 hectares -some 1600 acres- of the ski center), decided to 
take the road of Justice. Judge Norma Galván, after the pollution 
tests were taken, immediately ordered the Chapelco ski resort to stop 
polluting the creeks, but this order was not heeded by the almighty 
company (on the other hand, it is always important to remember that 
some years ago, and after the Reynals bankrupted Austral and all its 
associated firms, the administration of the Chapelco resort has been 
given away to an European tour operator), who followed the usual 
pattern with the Argentinean ruling class, which is that "law only 
binds others, not us".

The Mapuche then decided to start a new action in Justice _and to 
block the roads to the ski resort_ (keep in mind that we are at the 
apex of the ski season in the Southern Hemisphere now). Against what 
many of the "secessionists" expected, but in keeping with the hopes 
of the Mapuche, they received the warmest support not only from 
residents of the nearby San Martín de los Andes community (who are of 
course affected by the closing of the ski resort, which is their main 
economic resource), but also by _the tourists themselves_!

"I was really moved to see many families from Buenos Aires and other 
points of the country come to us and help us during the protest", 
said to _Clarin_ Cristina, the second chief of the Vera community.

Judge Galván has ordered that the ski resort be closed until it 
solves the problem. The Mapuche communities want a good solution, not 
to be sent fresh water in bottles. The company in charge of the ski 
resort only wants to extract as much revenues as possible. And the 
Argentineans in Chapelco, in an unexpected -for the imperialists- 
stand, have acted on the assumption that both Mapuche and non-Mapuche 
belong to the same nation, and that even the tourists will support 
their Mapuche fellow countrypeople against polluters of Nature and 
sickeners of humans.

Argentina has really changed a lot after December 2001. This would 
not have happened a year ago. Every time I see the news on companies 
that are taken and put to work by the workers, every time I see 
actions such as this by the San Martín de los Andes residents and 
tourists, I feel better that I was on the streets on December 19th 
and 20th.

BTW: today, for the first time, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, a presidential 
candidate with the best chances to win in the imminent national 
elections, will do a mass action in Buenos Aires where "we shall not 
debate whether imperialism exists or not: we shall do an anti-
imperialist demonstration", as Daniel Rodríguez, one of the leaders 
of Rodríguez Saá's MNP has stated.

A Presidential candidate's operator speaking of anti-imperialism... 
This is 
really new. And good.

New air is blowing here. A couple of months ago, they were just a 
breeze. Now, they are becoming a strong wind. Tomorrow, we 
Argentineans may be fanning away the imperialists in less time than 
many expect.

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
nestorgoro at

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"Aquel que no está orgulloso de su origen no valdrá nunca 
nada porque empieza por depreciarse a sí mismo".
Pedro Albizu Campos, compatriota puertorriqueño de todos 
los latinoamericanos.
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