The Coordinadora de Comunidades en Conflicto Arauco-Malleco (Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco), known as CAM, is an active insurgent organization founded in 1998 and currently present in Chile. The primary objective of the organization is the emancipation of the Mapuche people (1), which places them in the context of the wider “Mapuche Conflict” as it is called in Chile and Argentina (2). The group's approaches involve direct action, particularly the sabotaging of forestry equipment and engaging in combat with state authorities, such as the G.O.P.E (Special Police Operations Group). The CAM also strongly defends the territories they claim as their tribal grounds, but are legally owned by landowners or forestry industries. The group is present in four regions of the country: Bio-Bio, Los Lagos, Los Rios and Araucanía, and their actions have been increasing in number since 2010 (3).
History & Ideology
CAM’s historical context involves the Mapuche Conflict, which can be traced back to the resistance of the Mapuche people during the conquest of Chile by the Spanish. Furthermore, the Mapuche people are amongst the most marginalized and discriminated people in Chile, many of them being part of poor communities (2). The organization formed in 1998 following the split of the CTL (Lafkenche Territorial Coordinator) (4) as an effort to coordinate the actions of the different Mapuche communities present in the Arauco and Malleco zones. During this time, they had no clear ideological background, nor a well-defined approach to resistance, although their fight for the rights of the Mapuche people relied on combating against discriminatory state policies, as well as against the growing development of the forestry industry and the exploitation of their land (5). However, some founding members of the CAM were former far-left militants, henceforth causing the group to rapidly evolve into an armed militant group with a clear and novel ideological framework (4). In 2022, the congress of Chile declared the CAM and other Mapuche organizations as terrorist groups (6).
The ideological framework of the CAM was compiled in a document called “El pensamiento emancipatorio de la CAM” (‘the emancipatory theory of the CAM’) written by one of the organization's speakers and founding members – Hector Llaitul. This document states that the main objective of the organization is independence from the Chilean state, and it defines its ideology as ‘Indianist Anti-capitalism’ (1). The CAM consider themselves Indianist because they seek the reconstruction and reconstitution of the Mapuche social reproduction system. They also emphasize that an anti-capitalist approach is fundamental because they uphold that capitalism is a system which is not theirs, which oppresses them, and condemns them to extermination (1). They declare that due to their anti-capitalistic nature, they cannot participate in formal Chilean democratic politics, because turning away from capitalism also inherently means they are separated from what they view as ‘dominant occidental relations’. Consequently, Llaitul also defines the group as anti-systemic (1).
Approach to Resistance
The CAMs beliefs are that territorial control is the prime foundation for the reconstruction of their political structures and the revitalization of Mapuche economic, social and cultural fabrics. In order to achieve this, the organization engages in two main activities: the sabotage of forestry industry infrastructure and territorial occupation. The groups that are involved in direct action are denominated as ‘Órganos de Resistencia Territorial’ (‘territorial resistance organs’, or ORT). These groups are composed of individuals known as weychafe (1) which means warrior in Mapudungun (the Mapuche language). This denomination is another aspect of the process of reconstitution of the Mapuche culture. The weychafe – organized in ORTs – are involved in direct action.
As aforementioned, the main actions of the CAM involve attacks on forestry infrastructure by burning transport trucks, machinery, offices, and also the sabotage of plantations by uprooting recently-planted trees (4). During acts of sabotage, ORT members leave behind messages claiming responsibility for the attacks and simultaneously promoting the Mapuche cause. These messages usually include some form of political demand, such as the liberation of Mapuche political prisoners, although these demands are often omitted by news anchors during coverage of their events (7). However, these demands gain friction as they are often shared by different Mapuche activist groups over social media platforms (8).
The other main approach employed by the CAM is trespassing into private land (which may belong to the same forestries or different local landowners) and occupying it. These actions are called ‘recuperaciónes productivas’ (productive recuperations) and consist of occupying the land while also utilizing it. This approach is key to the CAM’s objectives as it concurrently offers a solution to the poverty problem in different communities. After they occupy land, they begin a process of preparing it for the plantation of different crops or, if they are occupying lands that belong to the forestry industry, they use the wood by distributing it or selling it to fund the organization (4)(5). Once the occupation of land begins, the ORT members stay in order to fight the police attempts to evict the Mapuche (1).
Alliances & Relations
The organization operates in the same region as other mapuche paramilitary groups, one of them being the Weychan Auka Mapu (founded by former CAM members). Although there is no formal alliance between these groups, they don’t interfere with each other and follow similar patterns of action and ideals (4). This signifies that the CAM is sharing its cause and motivations with other similar organizations in the region.
(1) Llaitul, Hector. Una estrategia de Liberación Nacional Mapuche: el pensamiento emancipatorio de la Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CEME, 2013), https://www.archivochile.com/carril_c/cc2013/cc_2013_00012.pdf.
(2) Balbontin-Gallo, Cristobal. “El conflicto mapuche como lucha por el reconocimiento: La necesidad de una nueva clave de lectura,” Izquierdas 49, (February, 2020): 330-340.
(3) Disi, Rodolfo and Quiroz, Cristian. “¿Cómo se vive el conflicto en el corazón de la araucanía?” Tercera Dosis, May 1, 2022. https://terceradosis.cl/2022/05/01/como-se-vive-el-conflicto-en-el-corazon-de-la-araucania/
(4) “Los cuatro grupos radicalizados que operan en la Macrozona Sur” Pauta, december 26, 2021. https://www.pauta.cl/nacional/macrozona-sur-chile-violencia-grupos-armados-cam-rml-wam-rmm (accessed 14/10/2022)
(5) Pairicán, Fernando and Álvarez, Rolando. “La Nueva Guerra de Arauco: La Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco y los nuevos movimientos de resistencia mapuche en el Chile de la Concertación (1997-2009)”, Izquierdas 10 (august, 2011): 66-84.
(6) Sepulveda, Bastien and Huiliñir-Curio, Viviana. “Witrampüramgetuael ta Wallmapu: pensar el territorio mapuche desde la praxis'', CUHSO, (december, 2020): 10-18
(7) Gomez, Rodrigo. “Cámara de Diputados declara a la CAM y otras tres organizaciones radicales como “asociaciones ilícitas de carácter terrorista”,” La Tercera, june 1, 2022. https://www.latercera.com/nacional/noticia/camara-de-diputados-declara-a-la-cam-y-otras-tres-organizaciones-radicales-como-asociaciones-ilicitas-de-caracter-terrorista/RZYPRDJ6QJEORBWNIYHQMZDI6E/
(8) “CAM se adjudicó ataque incendiario en una empresa de aridos en Quilleco”, Radio Bio-Bio, august 28, 2022. https://cooperativa.cl/noticias/pais/region-del-biobio/cam-se-adjudico-ataque-incendiario-en-una-empresa-de-aridos-en-quilleco/2022-08-28/180108.html (accessed 09/10/2022)