The Office of Neuquén's Chief Prosecutor Wednesday filed charges against businessman Gabriel Cherqui, Mapuche Community of Neuquén (CMN) spokesman Jorge Nahuel and activist Gilberto Huilipan for promoting the May 2017 trespassing by Mauche demonstrators into the Vaca Muerta oil fields.
Chief Prosecutor Pablo Vignaroli explained the exact charges were repeated usurpation as instigators, when a group of people who invoked ancestral rights to the Tratayén area, between km 75 and km 81 down Provincial Route 7 to take over the strategic piece of land which encompasses Vaca Muerta, the country's largest hydrocarbon reserve, and several gas pipelines that go through it.
The three defendants have allegedly recruited 23 people from outside the indigenous communities to occupy those fields, which are privately owned.
According to the prosecutor, the defendants in the early morning of May 18, 2017, met with two cattle breeders near one of the targets and instigated them to march onto three properties under the argument that they belonged to them by ancestral rights and that for that reason they had to be recovered.
The gang, which included women and children, was divided into groups that same day in the afternoon, and entered the premises claiming that they belonged to the Lof Futaxayen community, cut fences, threatened employees and occupied the land for four months, until they were evicted by court order on September.
According to Vignaroli, it was a maneuver plotted by the leaders of the Mapuche group in order to convince the breeders about a supposed legitimacy of their claims to the land to eventually seek monetary compensation from the oil companies.
During the hearing, the prosecutor stated that those who consummated the usurpation do not integrate any Mapuche community that is recognized by the enforcement authority and that the occupied buildings were not subject to any territorial survey, as provided by Law 26,160, which protects the territoriality of indigenous communities.
He added that an investigation is still underway against those who took part in the occupations, representing the Futaxayen community.
Under Neuquén law, it remains to be decided whether the case is strong enough to lead to a trial.
The prosecutor also agreed, at the request of the defense, that in the next hearings the defendants may express themselves in the Mapuche language and have a translator, although all three of them are known to speak Spanish.