19 May 2011


Photographer arrested while covering protest against major hydroelectric project

Incident details


Marcela Rodríguez, Photographer


Newen Mapuche, Other

This is available in:

English Français Español
(RSF/IFEX) - 17 May 2011 - Photographer Marcela Rodríguez's arrest while covering a protest against a major hydroelectric project on 13 May and a government agency's refusal to fund distribution of filmmaker Elena Varela's documentary about the Mapuche people's land dispute with the authorities have revived concern about a tendency to suppress coverage of environmental issues in Chile.

A contributor to the Mapuexpress website ( http://www.mapuexpress.net/ ), Rodríguez, 29, was arrested when police used force to disperse demonstrators within five minutes of their starting to stage a protest in the southern city of Temuco against plans to build five hydro-electric dams in Patagonia. The so-called Hydroaysén project's imminent approval has sparked a massive wave of protests in Chile.

The staff of Mapuexpress told Reporters Without Borders that Rodríguez was mistreated by the police. According to Radio Bío Bío, she and 10 other people are due to appear in court on 22 June on charges of public disorder. Prosecutors want each of them sentenced to 300 days in prison, plus a fine if they refuse to admit their responsibility.

"We hope that, at the trial, the police will explain their behaviour during Manuela Rodríguez's arrest and their violation of the constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of assembly and information," Reporters Without Borders said. "Thirty thousand people demonstrated in Santiago. Why was a much smaller demonstration - and its coverage - so quickly suppressed in Temuco?

"The dispute over the Hydroaysén project compounds the already serious land conflict between the authorities and the Mapuche indigenous communities in the south. Rodríguez's fate takes on an additional importance as her case has coincided with a disturbing new development in the case of documentary filmmaker Elena Varela."

Varela was arrested on a criminal association charge in 2008 while shooting her documentary "Newen Mapuche" about the Mapuche people in the southern region of Araucania and their disputes with the government. It was not until 22 April 2010 that she was finally acquitted.

The many questionable aspects of the case against Varela suggested that it was an attempt to censor her film. Two foreign documentary film crews that came to cover the issue of the Mapuche in Araucania were deported from Chile at around the same time.

Varela's film is ready for distribution and has already begun being screened in festivals in Chile and other countries. But CORFO (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción), a state agency that promotes production, told Varela in a 13 April 2011 letter that it was refusing her request for assistance with the film's national and international distribution on the grounds that it "would harm the country's image."

"This is clearly a case of political censorship," the Association of Chilean Documentary Makers (ADOC) said in a 12 May letter to CORFO executive vice-president Hernán Cheyre and culture minister Luciano Cruz-Coke. Varela had previously filed an appeal with the culture ministry, which did not keep its promise to reply by 11 May.

"Pending a response from CORFO to our request for an explanation, our assessment of this case is similar to that of ADOC's filmmakers." Reporters Without Borders said. "The reason given by CORFO for refusing to help distribute 'Newen Mapuche' even seems to confirm that Varela was arrested in 2008 for making a film about a subject the government would rather forget. It is also absurd, inasmuch as screenings have already begun.

"The refusal to support this film confirms the continuing existence of a taboo in Chile that it is time to end. Varela's documentary raises an issue of real public interest both nationally and internationally. For the sake of a public debate and for the sake of freedom of expression and information, 'Newen Mapuche' should receive normal distribution."


Putting free expression issues in perspective.

Sign up to receive IFEX In Context.

Related stories on ifex.org

New RSF report details dangers of environmental reporting 7 June 2010

IFEX members working in this country 1

More from Chile

    La regulación de la vigilancia estatal constituye uno de los desafíos más significativos plan- teados por la irrupción de las tecnologías de comunicación: aunque esperamos que el apara- to estatal mantenga la seguridad, su capacidad de buscar esos fines infringiendo la privaci- dad crece sin una respuesta normativa.

  • State of Privacy Chile

  • Freedom of the Press 2016: Chile

    Community radio stations, which face steep obstacles to registration, continue to be subject to service interruptions and confiscation of equipment.

At this point, would publish cover: "Home page"
At this point, would publish story-with-same-anchor: "Concerned over detention of documentary filmmaker on hold-up charges, RSF asks, "Is the Mapuche issue a taboo subject?""
IFEX is a global network of committed organisations working to defend and promote free expression.
Permission is granted for material on this website to be reproduced or republished in whole or in part provided the source member and/or IFEX is cited with a link to the original item.