Lies, contradictions and pressures: The united colours of Benetton
19th March 2004
On the 3rd February 2004 the Italian Catholic newspaper Famiglia Cristiana published a letter from the Milan-based organisation “Coordinamento Lombardo Nord/Sud del Mondo” in which it referred to the actions of the Benetton corporation and their detrimental effects on the Mapuche people. Subsequently, on the 9th March the online newspaper WallStreetItalia published an article that reflected our complaints against the Benetton Group. The holding company, situated in Treviso, has responded separately to these two publications, defending itself in Famiglia Cristiana towards the end of February and a few days ago, the 11th March, doing the same for WallStreetItalia. We, the Organisation of Mapuche Tehuelche Communities “11 de octubre”, feel obliged to shed light on certain lies; to denounce the pressures and highlight the contradictions of this pseudo-humanist corporation:
- In the response given to WallStreetItalia it is maintained that the “Compañía de Tierras del Sud Argentina S.A ” (CTSA) exists as a separate company independent of the Benetton Group and that their only common feature is that both are controlled by “Edizione Holding”. As such, this statement repeats the strategy set out by the CTSA’s lawyer, Martín Iturburo Moneff, in the interview carried out by journalists from the television programme “Punto.Doc” which was broadcast last November. It would be good if “Edizione Holding” could resolve its identity and ownership issues, given that last week, as on many other occasions, the Buenos Aires daily paper ‘Clarín’ published an item concerning the “magnitude” of the El Cóndor estate, “property of the CTSA, that is situated in the province of Santa Cruz.” From this statement it is evident that this establishment does indeed belong to the Benetton Group.
- In its response to Famiglia Cristiana the Italian company maintains that the Curiñanco-Nahuelquir Mapuche family “entered land belonging to the CTSA with no entitlement to do so and occupied it unlawfully in order to construct housing. The tribunal sided with the CTSA, removing the family from their unlawful occupation of land that did not belong to them.” The statement given to WallStreetItalia goes a step further and claims that all that remains to be done is for the courts to determine the sentence that our brothers should receive.
Let us clarify once again that before moving onto the Santa Rosa property, located in the Leleque area, our brothers consulted the IACFR (“Instituto Autárquico de Colonización y Fomento Rural”) on several occasions about the situation of the premises. They were informed that the land was state property, as its inhabitants also maintain. Moreover, on the day that they occupied the land they went to the police station in Esquel and gave prior notice of their actions to the Chubut police. It would be interesting to know exactly what the Benetton Group – the biggest landowner in Argentina, possessing almost 1 million hectares – understands by “unlawful behaviour”. How would this corporation describe its strategy of publicly declaring that it only remains for the tribunal to sentence Atilio Curiñanco and Rosa Rúa Nahuelquir when the public trial has not yet begun? Isn’t this assertion a way of putting pressure on the tribunal? Isn’t this “unlawful behaviour”?
The Benetton Group states that “the tribunal sided with the CTSA”. Yet the measures pronounced by the examining magistrate, José Colabelli, are only preventative. The trial of our brothers for seizure of land will begin on the 14th April in the city of Esquel (Chubut). We reiterate: the total certainty with which this corporation makes such pronouncements is suspicious to say the least… as is the significance it attaches to the measures taken by the judge.
It is worth remembering that Dr Colabelli is currently facing a political trial for “ignorance of the law”. The prosecution against him was a result of the magistrate ordering the precautionary eviction of the Fermín family in the Mapuche Community of Vuelta del Río in March 2003 (a measure similar to that affecting the Curiñanco-Nahuelquir family). It is also necessary to point out that this judge did not decline to intervene in this lawsuit initiated by the CTSA, despite the fact that his wife, Gladys Carla Rossi, is the Italian vice-consul in Esquel. Furthermore, it is not the first time that we have had cause to denounce the racist behaviour of this judge.
In Famiglia Cristiana, the Benetton Group holds that: “concerning the 8 families in question, they live on the outskirts of the land owned by the CTSA. “Edizione Holding” and the CTSA have no intention whatsoever of building a tourist village on either their land or on the outskirts of their property. In any case, these 8 families live on land belonging to the Argentinian government and the CTSA know nothing at all about what the government’s decision will be.”
The Benetton Group is referring to the 8 Mapuche families who live in the railway-side houses of Leleque station. It is true that this property belongs to the State – we never claimed that it didn’t – but it is also true that the Leleque Estate (owned by the CTSA) constantly pesters these families so that they will leave the area. It is strange that the corporation professes total ignorance of the intentions of the government of Chubut concerning the premises, considering its fluid communication with state officials and given that the land in question is an island surrounded by an ocean of Benetton. Yet more strange is that in the response given to WallStreetItalia it openly contradicts this claim, by admitting that it is aware of the government’s touristic venture. What is more, it adds that the government is considering the possibility of including the Leleque Museum and the adjoining café to the tourist route, both of which belong to the Leleque Estate… Besides, although the Italian corporation may deny it, all the inhabitants of the area are well aware that the CTSA hopes to undertake a touristic project in the aforementioned station.
In Famiglia Cristiana, the Benetton Group makes the following claims: The CTSA directly provides work for almost 250 people. Some of these workers are descended from or related to the citizens of the Cushamen Community and these employees enjoy the same salary and social benefits as the company’s other employees with no discrimination whatsoever. The CTSA is also making improvements from a production point of view, especially concerning the level of genetic improvement of the sheep on the Leleque Estate. Their investments have had an economic impact on the other estates in the region: creating employment, improving working conditions, actions that have had a positive social impact. For the last few years it has also been carrying out an intensive forestation program.
The testimonies of hundreds of local inhabitants, both Mapuche and non-Mapuche, say that the opposite is true and report reductions in working benefits. Moreover, when we interviewed Dr Diego Perazzo, vice-president of the CTSA, last November in the city of Esquel, we proposed that he should assemble all the labourers and enumerate the working benefits that the Benetton Group has provided for them. He fell silent and refused our proposal.
As for the positive social impact of its actions, the Benetton Group must be referring to its closure of roads, which has made it difficult to get from one place to another. Or to the wire fencing cutting off access to various water sources which has led to protests not only from the inhabitants of the region, both Mapuche and non-Mapuche, but also from tourists. Or to the wire fencing that now surrounds the Mapuche “reservation”… Although it denies this situation in the letter sent to WallStreetItalia.
Another positive impact will be the opening of a police station in the Leleque area – located at kilometre 1440 of the national route 40 – the “Benetton police station”, to control and repress the protests of our people. As for the assertion that their genetic improvements benefit people… Which people exactly? Those with the surname Benetton. Are we supposed to be happy about this?
The Benetton Group boasts of its investments but doesn’t make it clear that it is receiving subsidies from the State to carry out its forestation plans. Or perhaps the biggest landowner in Argentina is going to deny this. Lots of pine trees… but all subsidised. Subsidies for those who perhaps refuse to hire unemployed workers or small-scale producers. Furthermore, the CTSA is planting exotic pines, that is to say, species that are not native to our “Wallmapu” (Mapuche Territory) By doing so, they are altering the eco-system, destroying the equilibrium that exists between different forms of life… Yet another demonstration of the respect that the corporation has for our people and our culture; yet another benefit that foreigners have brought the Mapuche people.
We hope that the Benetton Group / the CTSA / ”Edizione Holding” – or any other of its multiple identities – does not consider it to be “unlawful behaviour” that we make our voice heard.
FOR TERRITORY, JUSTICE, AUTONOMY AND LIBERTY.
Ten times over we shall win!
of Mapuche Tehuelche Communities “11 de octubre”
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