Five members of the elite naval police squad known as “Albatros” are being tried for the murder of Rafael Nahuel, 22, a Mapuche man shot dead when his community was evicted in Villa Mascardi, Río Negro province, in November 2017. The trial began on Tuesday at a federal court in General Roca, 600 kilometers from where Nahuel died.
Nahuel was shot during an eviction carried out by security forces in Villa Mascardi, Bariloche. The Nahuel Huapi National Park had accused his community of “usurping” the disputed land where he was living. Mapuche communities have been claiming rights over their ancestral land for centuries, and in recent years have suffered repression and persecution by security forces.
The prefects — Sergio Cavia, Francisco Javier Pintos, Juan Ramón Obregón, Carlos Valentín Sosa and Sergio García — are facing charges of “homicide aggravated by excessive self defense.” The victim’s plaintiffs claim this was a case of institutional violence.
However, during the second hearing on Wednesday Pintos and Sosa claimed that Nahuel was shot by members of his own community.
“He was shot in the back, and we were shooting from the front,” they said via video call.
Pintos claimed that the prefects are scapegoats of a “corrupt and cowardly” judiciary, saying that judges Gustavo Villanueva and Leónidas Moldes are basing their decisions on “phony forensic analyses,” referring to various reports that did not agree on which gun the bullet that killed Nahuel came from.
Nahuel’s family, Bariloche’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH, by its Spanish acronym), and the National Human Rights Secretariat, who are plaintiffs in the case, denied their claims.
“There’s no evidence or expert analysis in the file that could potentially prove that [Nahuel] died in any way other than being shot by the Albatros group members,” they told Télam news agency.
The plaintiffs are calling for three prefects to be charged with doubly aggravated homicide — for the violent use of a machine gun and for being members of security forces — and the others as necessary participants.
During his 20-minute testimony, in which he didn’t allow questions, Pintos rejected the excessive self-defense charge against him, contending that he only shot five times. Nahuel’s family’s lawyer, Rubén Marigo, later told Télam that the Albatros squad shot 130 bullets and said that the prefects express an “ideology that made an internal enemy of the Mapuches.”
“They were wearing traditional Mapuche clothes and yelling in another language, which is not the official one in Argentina,” Pintos said of the Mapuche members they encountered, while Sosa described them as “a group of violent people who don’t hesitate to start fires, destroy and kill.”
On Tuesday, the court rejected Prosecutor Rafael Vehils Ruiz’s demand that the prefects be arrested due to being a flight risk.
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On November 25, 2017, Bariloche Federal Judge Gustavo Villanueva — who is currently in charge of the extradition trial of Mapuche leader Facundo Jones Huala — ordered police to evict the Villa Mascardi Mapuche community in Bariloche. On November 17, authorities from the Nahuel Huapi National Park had reported the Lafken Winkul Mapu community for “usurpation” of the piece of land where the community lives.
Part of the Albatros squad went to Villa Mascardi under Villanueva’s orders and stumbled upon members of the Mapuche community. According to the case files, the prefects gave them a warning and threw a sound bomb to make them leave. After the Mapuche members threw rocks at them, the prefects started shooting them with rubber bullets, and then with live rounds.
Rafael Nahuel was shot in the back, causing severe injuries to his internal organs.
Around 10 hectares of land were in dispute between the Nahuel Huapi National Park and the Lafken Winkul Mapu community, who claim the area is part of their ancestral land.
Nahuel’s killing happened three months after the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado during military police repression of a small protest of the Pu Lof Mapuche community in Cushamen, Chubut province, on August 1, 2017. On October 17 of that year, Maldonado’s body was found lying in a shallow creek 70 meters from where he was last seen.
— with information from Télam