(May 16, 2007)
Fourteen Mapuche activists temporarily occupied forestry property.

Fourteen Mapuche activists on Monday temporarily occupied property near Panguipulli owned by Fernando Léniz, one of Chile’s most important forestry leaders.

Léniz, president the Forestry Industry Association (Corma) has had various of his properties occupied or attacked eleven times in recent years. In 2001 a guest house on his property was torched, while in 2003 his residence was reduced to ashes.

In this most recent attack, Mapuches entered Léniz’s property at 8 a.m. and left it at 5 p.m., after government officials assured that the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (Conadi) would meet with them to discuss their grievances. Juan Huichamán, spokesperson for the Mapuche community, explained that “the community mobilized because Conadi failed to respond to their demand for land.”

Conadi is the government agency tasked with promoting the economic, social and cultural well-being of Chile’s indigenous communities. In recent years it has spent large amounts of money purchasing contested properties and turning them over to Mapuche groups.

The Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous group, have been disputing property ownership rights in southern Chile ever since they were defeated and their lands occupied by the State of Chile.

The Mapuches make up 9.7 percent of Chile’s population and are located mostly in Chile’s southern Regions VII, VIII, IX, and X. They proved the indigenous community most resistant to the Spanish conquests of the 16th century and were only defeated in the 19th century.

Chile is often criticized by international organizations for its treatment of indigenous groups. Serious efforts to deal with indigenous community issues began in the 1990s when democracy was restored to Chile. But violence has increased in recent years, with many Mapuche groups demanding autonomy from Chile, i.e. a separate, Mapuche-run territory of their own.

The forestry industry - operating on what Mapuches consider their ancestral land - often finds itself in conflict with activists.

By Deborah Guterman (