Raúl Zibechi | November 13, 2009
Translated from: Hacia la reconstrucción de la nación mapuche
Translated by: Monica Wooters
Tired of waiting for the slow transfer of lands from the state and the
always problematic recognition of their rights, dozens of Mapuche
communities have begun to mobilize, a process that the Chilean
government has responded to with extreme harshness.
Thousands of Mapuches arrived at midday on Oct. 22 at the Municipal
Council in Temuco (capital of the Araucanía, 700 kilometers south of
Santiago) to denounce the violence used by police when they shot pellet
at children. "After arriving in the center of the city, a group of
Mapuche children from the community of Ercilla opened a sack that
contained the remnants of over 200 tear gas canisters, cartridges, and
police issue bullet shells," according to the Azkintuwe newspaper.1
"We the Mapuche children do not want any
more RAIDS." Photo: www.wallmapuwen.cl.
The protest, organized by the Mapuche Territorial Alliance (Alianza
Territorial Mapuche), had as its objective to refute the claim that no
children had been wounded during the intervention of police forces in
the zone. The lonko (Mapuche authority) Juan Catrillanca, pointed out
that in a police raid, seven children from the local school were wounded
by pellets and as a result they coordinated this march that is watched
over by a strong police contingent.
"We are not afraid of the Chilean State and its use of violence, our
path continues toward the national liberation of the Mapuche. We know
that we will continue resisting in our communities," said Mijael
Carbone, werken (director) of the Alliance, to the crowd.
"We are all here, the wounded children are here. We can all see them. My
son Pablo is here with just one eye, the mothers of the babies that were
gassed one week ago in Temucuicui are here. Carlos Curinao, brutally
beaten by the police the same day is here. None of them received proper
medical attention. We have come peacefully to demand respect one more
time," stated Catrillanca.2
Despite the fact that the authorities deny it, both the church and
international organizations have confirmed that children were wounded by
pellets. Gary Stahl, representative of UNICEF in Chile, was very clear
when he said: "In order to ensure that another generation of Chileans is
not marked by violence, we need to know what has happened, and find a
solution so that this does not repeat in the future."3 On Oct. 5 a
14-year-old child from the Rofué community was shot, arrested, loaded
into a helicopter, beaten, and tied up by police forces who threatened
to throw him out of the helicopter once they were in the air if he did
not agree to give the names of those who participated in the takeover of
the Santa Lucía estate.
Human rights organizations have provided dozens of cases from the last
two years in which minors were shot with pellets and beaten by the local
police as well as militarized police in Chile. "As of today we have not
seen one impartial investigation to uncover the truth of what happened,"
added Stahl after demanding, on behalf of Unicef, that the
administration of President Michelle Bachelet take measures to ensure
the protection of Mapuche children.4 The indignation overcame ethnic
barriers that week when the minister of the Interior accused the Mapuche
parents of using their children as "shields" in their taking of lands.
The statement provoked a wave of anger across the country from south to
Land and Poverty in the Araucanía
Poverty levels in Chile reached 22.7% of the population; however, among
indigenous peoples it has reached 35.6%. Indigenous families earn nearly
half the income that non-indigenous families do. Education among
indigenous people is 2.2 years less than the national average of 9.5
years and just 3% of the rural Mapuche population has received any
secondary education by the age of 15. Just 41% of indigenous households
have access to sewer systems and 65% have electricity. Infant mortality
rates in some indigenous municipalities are 50% higher than the national
The human development index among the Mapuche population is less than
the non-indigenous population (0.642 to 0.736). The lowest indices in
the country are found in the rural areas of the Araucanía (the Mapuche
territory south of Bio Bio) at 0.549, but the Mapuche woman has an even
lower index of 0.513. In addition to being poor, they are discriminated
against, "almost completely in the media and in particular in
television,"6 for example. The Mapuche have no representation in Parliament.
However, the state has stood up to an active policy in favor of
indigenous peoples and the Mapuche in particular. The National
Corporation for Indigenous Development (CONADI, Corporación Nacional de
Desarrollo Indígena) through the Fund for Indigenous Lands and Water
(Fondo de Tierras y Aguas Indígenas), has transferred some 200,000
hectares to the Mapuche since 1994, benefitting more than 10,000
families. The numbers are insufficient as it is estimated that 200,000
more acres should also be appropriated. Additionally, many of the
families have received individual titles, not communal ones. The process
is very slow, leaving out many communities, and there are no support
programs in place.7
Among the Mapuche there are many complaints in regard to the fact that
none of the official programs have consulted with the communities. An
evaluation of state policies in 2003 resulted in the special rapporteur
from the UN Human Rights Council, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, concluding that
"despite having produced important advances during the last 10 years,
these [people] continue to live in a situation of marginalization and
negation that keeps them separate from the rest of the country."8
The situation has worsened due to the impressive expansion of tree
plantations throughout southern Chile for the past three decades. In
1960, each Mapuche family had an average of 9.2 hectares even though the
state maintained that they needed 50 hectares to live decently. Between
1979 and 1986 each family had just 5.3 hectares, which has since shrunk
to a mere three hectares of land per family. Under the Chilean
dictatorship the Mapuche lost 200,000 of the 300,000 hectares that they
were conserving. The advancement of tree plantations and hydroelectric
plants on their lands has caused an exponential increase in poverty and
Currently there are two million hectares of monoculture tree plantations
in the Araucanía in the hands of three large companies. The Mapuche
lands in their entirety do not amount to 500,000 hectares, where some
250,000 community members live in 2,000 reservations, tiny islands in a
sea of pines and eucalyptus. "Seventy percent of the Mapuche territorial
entities are directly affected by environmental impacts caused by the
penetration of tree plantation companies," that alter the ecosystem, as
now "the artificial forest dries up estuaries and wells, isolates them
geographically, and contaminates the soil," according to researcher Juan
Children at the Center of the Conflict
In response to this scenario, the communities have been engaged in a
constant struggle to recuperate their ancestral lands that belonged to
them just 20 or 30 years ago. That struggle clashes with the interests
of the large tree plantation companies and the Chilean State that
supports them. The result is growing militarization in the most active
communities. This year an important growth in Mapuche activism took place.
In July a hundred or more delegates from the communities sent a letter
to President Bachelet that was interpreted as a kickoff of a major
process of land recuperation. In August, Jaime Facundo Mendoza, a
Mapuche leader, was killed when the Special Operations Group evicted
dozens of families from a piece of land they had recuperated in the
Ercilla zone. The funeral was impressive: it took place over four days
and was attended by thousands of community members from all over the
Araucanía, especially those from the recently created Mapuche
Territorial Alliance that brings together between 60 and 120 communities.
But other groups attended as well, such as the Council of All Lands
(Consejo de Todas las Tierras) that became known in 1990, and the more
radical Arauco Malleco Coordination (Coordinadora Arauco Malleco),
created in 1998 that recently declared war against the Chilean State.
But, above all there were dozens of cultural associations, traditional
authorities, university students, and the Nationalist Mapuche
Wallmapuwen Party (Partido Nacionalista Mapuche Wallmapuwen).
On Oct. 12 some 10,000 people demonstrated in Santiago in a protest
organized by Meli Wixan Mapu, an urban Mapuche organization. The biggest
protest in Chile in the last few years attracted a wide array of
indigenous and social groups. A sign of the times as well as a sign of
the prestige of the Mapuche struggle, Garra Blanca, the fan base for the
Santiago soccer club Colo Colo, was in attendance waving their flags in
the Alameda (Santiago’s main avenue) along with Mapuche flags and
banners referring to the conflict and denouncing the official
celebrations of the bicentennial anniversary of Chile’s independence.10
This is one of the highlighted characteristics of the current stretch of
the Mapuche conflict: the growing participation of the winkas (whites)
in solidarity against the state-sponsored repression that employs
Pinochet-era methods and laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Law. In Chile
there is debate over whether this legislation should be applied in cases
where property is threatened (automobiles, tree plantations, etc.) but
people are not.
Nearly 50 Mapuche prisoners populate the jails because the state
responds to land occupations with massive reprisals against entire
communities. Several children were beaten, together with their mothers,
on Oct. 16, as happens each time police forces enter the communities of
Ercilla and shoot indiscriminately. That day the police got as far as
the Temucuicui School and began firing pellets, leaving a dozen wounded
and 30 suffocated, the majority children.11 That action resulted in a
reprimand from the International Federation for Human Rights who joined
the UN Committee against Torture in their recommendations released last
May indicating that the security forces should cease in their
mistreatment of the Mapuche people.12
Convention 169: A Step Forward?
In September Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization,
that recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples, went into effect.
Chile was the last country in South America with an indigenous
population to approve the legislation, 20 years late. It is interesting
to note that the governments that make up the Democratic Agreement
(Concertación Democratica) were always reluctant to adopt legislation
that was approved in 1991 in Bolivia and Colombia, despite the fact that
these two countries were governed by conservative administrations at the
Bartolomé Clavero, a Spanish lawyer and historian as well as a member of
the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues states in a recent article
that was published the same day that Convention 169 went into effect,
"The government published, without due consultation or consent of the
indigenous people, the Regulation that regulates the consultation and
participation of indigenous peoples. It did this precisely, in view of
its content, to reverse mechanisms of control in future consultations."13
Clavero assures that the current UN special rapporteur, James Anaya,
engaged in an extensive dialogue with the government warning that the
regulation of Convention 169 should be consulted with the indigenous
peoples. He adds that: "The Regulation of Convention 169 is not the
first test of the bad faith, the first being when the government of
Chile insensibly made a great show of its interest in indigenous
population in its relations with international human rights organizations."
In his opinion, the government is looking for "a constitutional reform
to recognize indigenous peoples without recognizing their rights." This
is why he refers to "bad faith," as the government recognizes something
formally while negating it through its actions. He concludes: "The bad
faith plays both sides of the issue, against the indigenous population
as well as the international human rights institutions." In the report
following his trip to Chile, Special Rapporteur James Anaya states he
found "a significant level of distrust, discontent, and even the
negation on the part of the indigenous population of the plans,
programs, and policies of the government," which he attributes to the
flawed official policies.14
If this is the language used by prestigious international lawyers, one
can imagine what the Mapuche activists must feel when they confirm that
the government claims to recognize the support from native peoples in
the creation of the Chilean nation but they deny that those people have
rights. "The repressive wave," points out the website Mapuexpress.cl, is
a curtain to screen off that which they call a "constitutional coup
d’etat against the indigenous peoples and their rights."15
A New Generation
In this new cycle of struggles a new generation has begun to intervene.
This generation, as pointed out by the daily La Segunda, "they are armed
with university degrees to defend the indigenous cause."16 In the
southern city of Temuco alone, there are four self-managed dorms with
220 students. They tend to study anthropology, law, and journalism.
During their studies they rediscover Mapuche history. Among other
things, they learn that the so-called "Pacification of the Araucanía,"
carried out by the Republic in the late 19th century was a war designed
to exterminate their people.
Hand in hand with this new generation appear new themes and concepts:
the struggle to recuperate land is waged to reconstruct the Mapuche
territory, or in other words, the "nation;" the defense of autonomy,
both from political parties as well as on a general level from the
Chilean State; the fight not only to keep the culture alive but rebuild
themselves as a people utilizing tools such as ancestral rights. It is
an urban generation, and although the movement continues to maintain a
strong rural component, the city-based organizations are growing and
networking with other social movements.
They have built a wide network of digital, radio, and press-based media,
some from the external Mapuche community, and have woven alliances with
civil society organizations like the NGO Citizen Observatory
(Observatorio Ciudadano) and many others. Their demands are more and
more political and they formulate them in a new language: "Restoration
of the territoriality and autonomy of the indigenous peoples of Chile;
Demilitarization of the territory; Withdrawal of transnational
corporations; Respect for the human rights of the Mapuche people."17
They demonstrate an authentic devotion to the study of history, as
happens among all peoples who recoup their dignity. The lonko Juan
Catrillanca from the emblematic community of Temucuicui in Ercilla, and
leader of the Mapuche Territorial Alliance, assures that his
organization will continue to occupy private property to ensure that the
government continues to transfer the land to them. The Alliance invokes
the Treaty of Tapihue, signed by the Chilean State and the Mapuche
people in 1825, to respect the existing border of the time and permit
transit and commerce between the inhabitants of Chile and Wallmapu
They maintain that this treaty was violated in 1881 when Chile
Militarily invaded the Araucanía. "We want to recuperate six million
hectares. Meanwhile, we will continue taking lands and we will only
defend ourselves with our wiños (wooden clubs) and bolas," Cantrillanca
said during a presentation of the Alliance in August.18 As pointed out
by the historian Victor Toledo Llancaqueo, they are making the change
from "lands in conflict" to "territories in conflict."19
1. Azkintuwe, Oct. 22, 2009.
3. Chilean daily La Nación, Santiago, Oct. 26, 2009.
4. Chilean daily La Nación, Oct. 26.
5. Jorge Calbucura and Fabien Le Bonniec, "Territorio y
territorialidad en contexto post-colonial," Ñuke Mapuföralget Working
Papers No. 30, Chile, 2009.
7. Idem, p. 20.
8. Cited by Jorge Calbucura, p. 23.
9. Idem, p. 117.
10. Chilean daily La Nación, Oct. 13, 1009.
11. Observatorio Ciudadano, ob. cit.
12. Mapuexpress, Oct. 24, 2009.
13. Bartolomé Clavero, ob. cit.
14. James Anaya, ob. cit.
15. Mapuexpresss, Nov. 3, 2009.
16. La Segunda, Sep. 1, 2009 en www.lasegunda.com.
17. Convergence of Cultures (Convergencia de las Culturas), Santiago,
Oct. 23, 2009.
18. Azkintuwe, Aug. 15, 2009.
19. Víctor Toledo Llancaqueo, ob. cit. p. 103. The land is a physical
space used for production. Territory is an integral space (physical,
cultural, religious, symbolic). Toledo defines it as "a spatial
continuum, a territory with its water, species, and cultivatable lands,
as well as its right to participate in the decisions that affect that
territory. An imagined territory that is superimposed on the real space
of plantations and the space designed by administrative limits and that
constitutes the identity to be reconstructed."
Translated for the Americas Program by Monica Wooters.
Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo,
Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the
Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several
social groups. He writes the monthly "Zibechi Report" for the Americas
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