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Felipe Durán, the arrested photographer who portrayed the State repression and the Mapuche struggle

The conflict between the Chilean State and the Mapuche nation originated with the violent occupation of the Mapuches territory from the 1860s, a process known in official history as the “Pacification of Araucanía”. Indeed, from that date and to this day, capitalism is in a phase of territorial expansion – still incipient in the country – in which large swathes of agricultural land are given to Chilean and foreign settlers. To this end, the entire area has bee militarized, and Mapuche communities have been driven off to the worst lands. This process has continued, with varying cycles of State and landowner violence, throughout the entire twentieth century.

Felipe Duran: Allanamiento comunidad Cacique José Guiñón (2012)

Felipe Duran: Allanamiento comunidad Cacique José Guiñón (2012)

The case of Felipe Durán

Felipe Durán is a Chilean freelance photographer committed who stands in solidarity with popular struggles and movements, especially with the struggle of the Mapuche people. Indeed, with his camera, he has borne witness to the Chilean state’s repression in the Mapuche’s territory (Wallmapu).

He has been under arrest since a 4 AM raid last Tuesday, September 22, in the Chomío area of Padre Las Casas in the Araucanía Region in south of Chile. The arrest occurred in the context of the State’s persecution of Cristian Levinao, a Mapuche comunero who had escaped from Angol prison on July 15, and had been in hiding.

At that time, Levinao reported humiliating and racist treatment, in addition to restrictions on prison benefits, such as the reduction of visits and further isolation. He also declared his innocence in response to accusations of robbery by intimidation by Luis Chamorro, known in the Mapuche community as the “anti-Mapuche prosecutor”.

Felipe Durán was arrested together with Cristián Levinao, and now has been committed for trial on the charge of breaching the Firearms Control Act. He h and has been given 45 days in custody pending an investigation. This is an obvious case of political persecution of a photographer whose real weapon – contrary to the claims of the prosecution – is his camera and lens, with which he captures and conveys the struggle of a people for their liberation from oppression by the State and the timber industry. With Felipe Durán’s arrest, the state seeks to silence him and his camera, to prevent honest reporting on what the media call the “Mapuche conflict”.

A window to the world on the Mapuche struggle

Felipe Duran (known as “Felipón” among his close friends) is a photographer who studied at the Instituto Profesional ARCOS. According to those who knew him at the time, Felipe was interested in social issues. Since those days, he has devoted his entire career to them. According to the online newspaper “Mapuexpress,” Felipe arrived in the city of Temuco (capital of Araucania Region) a few years ago as a contributor to the international news agency UPI, and has concentrated his efforts on the topic of the Mapuche struggle and their land, Wallmapu, since then. He eventually committed fully to this issue, settling in the Wallmapu, where he has lived for more than 5 years. He now works for the Association of Independent Reporters (ARI) and as a freelance photojournalist.
But far from working only on this single issue, Felipe Durán has followed various popular struggles. Another photographer, Fernando Lavoz of AFI, recalls having met him in one of these struggles: in Aysén during the social upheaval in the region in summer of 2012, when local residents in that remote region cut off the main roads in support of their demand for post-earthquake reconstruction aid, and were brutally repressed by the Chilean military police. “Felipe had an instinct for knowing when and how to be; his commitment was clear, not only to get a good picture but also to tell what was happening and needed to be known” says Lavoz. They met many times after that, always in the context of social struggles, including a visit to the Mapuche political prisoners in the prison of Angol.

Felipe Durán: fotografía de la serie "Los nadie"

Felipe Durán: fotografía de la serie “Los nadie”

His proximity to the Mapuche people and their struggle made him a recurrent witness to the violence inflicted on the Mapuche by the military police, with his camera recording his achievements and sorrows. These pictures, which have toured the world, have overcome misinformation and shown the true face of the Chilean state in Wallmapu.

His work visualizing the Mapuche struggle is of such importance that his photographs are seen as the counterpart of the official version: the view from the Mapuche communities. In recent years, Felipe Durán came to be an essential resource for those in the international media seekng details on the fighting, recovery of lands, and the daily life of the communities in struggle. Media from around the world, such as the BBC and the Miami Herald, use these images to describe a conflict that sometimes is better known on the outside than in Chile itself. Felipe has become something akin to the “official eyes on the Mapuche people” to the world, his ever-reliable camera always finding the way to show what is happening.


Felipe Durán – Pilmaiken 2011

It is for this reason that the affection and support poured in immediately. The Association of Independent Reporters (ARI) has issued a statement (see here in Spanish) in support of a committed photographer against what is seen as payback for the photojournalism that has earned him recognition by national and international media, emphasizing that Felipe had received threats and harassment from the far-right group “Húsar”.

The Association of Independent Photographers (AFI) have also issued a statement (see here in Spanish) to support, denying the accusation of weapons possession and noting that the only weapon that Felipe Durán had was the Canon camera that has allowed him to relate the reality of conflict and state repression by the military police.

The Mapuche community “Epuleo Coñomil”, who are in the process of territorial recovery, also issued a statement (see here in Spanish) denouncing the arrests as part of a plot to muzzle the photographer and Christian Levinao. Of Felipe Durán’s photographic work, they say: “Through his camera, he portrayed the barbarism to which communities are subjected day after day, both in daily searches and the violent raids to which they have been the subjected, including war weapons to break into our territory.” They also asked that Felipe be treated as a Mapuche political prisoner.

Fotografía: Felipe Durán

Fotografía: Felipe Durán

Felipe and the independent and popular media

In the independent and popular media, news of Felipe’s arrest has had a strong impact. The image of Felipe with his camera has filled the social media; those pictures now bear witness to his work, but are also the reason he is considered “a dangerous person” to the state of Chile, because Felipe had become one of the “Wallmapu eyes” and his images have helped tell the part of the story that the mass media deliberately omit. “Wallmapu has gone blind, the Chilean State has beaten and booted him an eye.” For that reason, Mapuche social, political and media organizations, are denouncing the case against Felipe Durán as a “political stitch-up” against the photographer in order to stop and censor his work. Felipe is now in court-ordered pre-trial custody for 45 days while the investigation is conducted- and his eyes are absent in Wallmapu. In these moments, the media have been blinded and only part of the story is being told. Certainly, there are other people working to tell the stories of the oppressed communities, but Felipe’s arrest is a warning, a threat to all people who report on social conflicts; therefore, it constitutes clear blow to the freedom of expression and of the press. Today it’s Felipe, but tomorrow it could be anyone.

* translation: Profitando.com

Part of the work of photojournalist Felipe Durán: