Chile's salmon-farming industry lands on armed group’s sabotage target list

Published on
September 1, 2022
Chilean police arrest Héctor Llaitul, the leader of Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco.

Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM) – an indigenous organization in Chile that advocates for the creation of an autonomous state for the indigenous Mapuche people in the Araucanía region, where they claim historical rights – has called for increased sabotage against industries, including the salmon-farming sector, operating in the south of the country.

CAM's statement came in response to the arrest of its leader, Héctor Llaitul, who was apprehended in late August for alleged violations of Chile's state security law. CAM has called on other indigenous groups and communities to launch acts of violence against large corporations operating on traditional Mapuche lands “to continue with the resistance and sabotage mainly against the forestry, hydroelectric, mining, and salmon industries."

The government “once again puts its administration at the service of the oligarchies and economic conglomerates that have their interests placed in our ancestral Mapuche territory ... and which, over the years, have done nothing more than always side with businessmen,” CAM said.

CAM was founded in 1998, and its founding principles define acts of political violence and armed struggle as legitimate methods to achieve its objectives. In May 2022, Chile's Chamber of Deputies approved a resolution requesting the Chilean government declare CAM a terrorist organization.

The arrest of the CAM leader “is, without a doubt, a turning point for the revolutionary autonomist Mapuche movement,” CAM said, calling for a “true fight for the Mapuche national reconstruction [and not] to receive the crumbs offered by the state."

"We cannot be intimidated by this government that has kneeled before businessmen and that … seeks to co-opt and divide our people," CAM said.

While most of CAM’s campaigns have been against forestry companies – in particular, in the Biobío and Araucanía regions – it has also moved to “recover” farmland it claims as usurped Mapuche territory.

Some actions associated with Mapuche separatist groups have also spilled over into the salmon sector. In July 2021, five trucks – three of which were transporting salmon – and a van were attacked in the Pidima sector and their drivers forced to get out of their vehicles, which were subsequently burned. At the time, Chile’s Salmon Council denounced the act, saying “we are sure that violence will never be the way to resolve differences and we call on institutional channels to address them.”

Truck drivers working with Chile's salmon industry led a seven-day strike in 2020 to protest their mounting exposure to violence, including theft of their vehicles and cargoes, burning of the freighter trucks, partially as a result of activism from some members of Mapuche indigenous groups.

Prior to the protests in 2020, vandals broke into a smolt facility operated by Cermaq Chile and set the offices and warehouses ablaze. It was the second incident of arson the company had experienced in a 12-month period. The group that perpetrated the attack left pamphlets on Cermaq premises protesting against the construction of the Freire-Villarrica highway in Chile's south. Local media reports said the group responsible for the attack asked for the release of indigenous prisoners and an end to logging activity in the Araucanía region.  

Photo courtesy of Chilean Investigative Police (Policia de Investigaciones)

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