Understanding the Mapuche Conflict in Chile

Author: chileonline


CHILE — With 7 percent of the Chilean population being Mapuche, or “people of the earth,”  it is the largest indigenous group in Chile and its identity is directly linked to its lands.

However, land in Chile often attracts many interested parties, which leads to an increasingly aggressive climate of conflict.

This land struggle is a historical one, involving so many people from different spheres that it makes it hard to know how the conflict started and why it has not yet been resolved.

Why is the land struggle historical?

After Chile’s successful war of independence in the 19th century, the Chilean army seized original Mapuche land. Only two colonies and small infertile parcels of land were left for the Mapuches, meaning that most of them cannot live in the territories where their ancestors used to reside.

In 1979, under president Augusto Pinochet, the situation deteriorated further with a new law allowing companies to extract resources from reservation lands in the South.

Even today their territories and resources are constantly exploited, due to a denial of the rights of indigenous people, the high costs of taking a case to court, and mistrust of the justice system.

Despite all promises to pay the “historical debt” back to the Mapuche, president Michelle Bachelet continues to use policies like the anti-terrorism law, which dates back to the Pinochet period but is still used today to target Mapuche accused of terrorism and imprison them for up to five years (Richards 263- 264).

Where do the Mapuche live?                

The region of Araucanía is where most members of the indigenous group live today. It is also one of the poorest regions due to the constant loss of land and resources, which leads to a lack of self-autonomy. Overall, it is estimated that Mapuche land has been reduced from 10 million hectares to less than 800,000.

Parties involved, agreements and their violations:

A recent example of clashing interests is the case of the European company Enel Endesa in Neltune, which aims to install a water power station and water dam.

The dam would not only flood land which is holy to Mapuches but would entail massive ecological consequences, which would violate the convention 169 of the international labor organization.

Moreover, the construction is against the UN declaration of human rights, as it involves the exploitation of resources in indigenous territory. The Mapuche have filed a lawsuit against the company.

The process in which the state buys original Mapuche land through a fund and returns it to the communities takes so long that only  few applications are processed.

At the same time private companies continue to damage the environment in the region as they establish of monocultures and dams and contaminate rivers with chemicals.

As a result, a radicalization of some Mapuche groups is taking place, leading to several arson attacks and violent assaults against loggers, as well as pilots and firemen.

Just recently, at the end of August this year, haulers were protesting in front of presidential palace, La Moneda. They were asking for a higher police presence in the Araucanía to prevent further land occupation and arson attacks by the Mapuche.

The conflict:

In general, the Chilean population tends to side strongly with one side of the struggle, which aggravates the conflict, especially as information is often lacking and stereotypes are reproduced, as a result.

Nelson Lobos, director of Historia Mapuche described the conflict as the following: “Unfortunately, there is no dialogue and there has been no dialogue, so there is no understanding. The majority of politicians and Chileans in general do not know or understand the demands of the Mapuche. This generates biased ideas or myths about what their demands are. This fact alone has kept things as they are, without any progress in favor of a solution.”

On the question of whether the conflict has become more violent in recent years he answered: “I do not think that it is more violent. If we analyze the conflict with the State during the first half of the 20th century we find that there were massacres, such as the massacre of Ranquil or Rankul… I think that the violence has decreased in its intensity, sometimes it comes on strong and then stops again just as abruptly.”

However, the conflict peaked when in 2013 an arson attack at Luchsinger manner was committed, resulting in the death of the landowners Werner Luchsinger und Vivianne McKay. The government of former president Piñera used the antiterrorism law to investigate in the case.

Amnesty International reported that in October 2013 Mapuche “José Mauricio Quintriqueo Huaiquimil died after being run over by a tractor while he and other Mapuche were entering a farm in the Araucanía region.” Apparently he went to the farm in the first place with a proposal to negotiate about land that could possibly be given to them.

According to Condor, the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research defines the Mapuche conflict as heavy crisis, containing violence “as permanent instrument in an organised form.”

Both sides are suffering from losses and there is no end in sight. As the conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean state is ongoing, one of the questions that arises is what actions could be taken to ease the conflict.

In the eyes of Lobos “the solution is through dialogue [and to] build [up dialogue] community by community, determining which are the territories that should be recovered, and talking about the struggle in a political and not an economical sense, without prejudice.”

Sources: Richards, Patricia. “The Contradictions of Inclusion: Mapuche Women and Michelle Bachelet.” Politics & Gender 8.02 (2012): 261-267. Web. 10. May. 2015. Cambridge Journals.

Author: chileonline

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