The Trial of Pascual Pichun

Institute History


Pascual Pichun, a Mapuche Indian chief, is accused of burning the home and forested plantations of his neighbors: powerful landowners Agustin and Aída Figueroa. The crime, the Figueroas feel, is an act of retaliation caused by their refusal to give in to the Mapuches’ “illusory” demands: returning to its “ancestral owners” a portion of Nancahue, the Figueroas’ farm. The Mapuches may be ancestral owners, but they ought to understand that history does not go backward. The assault against Nancahue is the culmination of a series of terrorist attacks which have been devastating the region and driving some owners off their legally owned land. Cattle have been killed, fields set on fire. On the ruins of his burnt field, a landowner found a sign: “Death to all landowners! First your land! Then your blood!”

Pascual sits in court. Behind him a stern-looking policeman stands guard. Thinking how this all started, the chief feels lonely and incredibly sad. The Chilean government sold a big portion of Mapuche land to Mininco, a Canadian forestry company. The land called Santa Rosa was located between Temulemu, Pascual’s territory, and Nancahue.

Burning native vegetation to plant eucalyptus trees and throwing pesticides to make these trees grow faster, Mininco settled in. Pesticides made Mapuche children sick and killed the animals which fed Pascual’s people. The chief complained to Mininco, but the company did not listen and would not even hire local Mapuche workers. As his people starved, desperate Pascual turned to the government for help. But help did not come, and young Mapuche warriors decided they had had enough. Mininco planted by day. At night, the fires started, turning into ashes the eucalyptus trees the company had planted. Fierce fights took place between Mapuches and Mininco’s guards. The Mapuches took over Santa Rosa. Ramiro Figueroa, Aída’s oldest son, supported the company’s guards. Pascual discovered some maps which gave him legal title over a portion of Nancahue, and Pascual claimed it back. Ramiro refused, and the conflict escalated. Armed police were brought in to Santa Rosa. During the violent confrontations, a young Mapuche died. As protests spread across the country, Mininco gathered its profits and disappeared. Santa Rosa, now turned into a desert, was finally returned to Pascual.

From the witness stand, Aída Figueroa accuses Pascual of being a terrorist. But Pascual wonders who the terrorists are: those who kill the environment and starve people to death or those who fight back so they can survive?

For 15 days, the dramatic trial shakes the town of Angol. In April 2003, the Angol’s oral tribunal dictates an unprecedented verdict, declaring Pascual innocent and setting him free. Pascual returns to Temulemu to rebuild his family and community life.

Using their considerable influence, the Figueroas appeal to the Supreme Court, manage to nullify the Angol verdict, and in January 2004, Pascual is sent back to prison. Juan Pichun, Pascual’s oldest son, takes his father’s place as leader of the Mapuche people. Vowing not to rest until justice is done, Juan sets out to free his father and all the Mapuche leaders from prison. With the support of the Mapuche warriors, he may get even more than that.


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