Apr 2, 2010
Chile’s Natives get less earthquake disaster aid.
By Carol Berry, Today correspondent.

DENVER – Imagine a region 100 miles across – ocean on one side, mountains on the other – squeezed between a tsunami and an earthquake, and pretty much off the world’s radar.

In some ways, that’s the plight of parts of indigenous Chile, where devastation from the recent disasters has left Mapuche Indian communities, including coastal villages, outside the aid streaming into the country from other nations.

It’s because at present some rural villages on Chile’s central west coast and inland have been left out of the government’s official declaration of a disaster area, which has centered on Concepción and its environs and, further north, Santiago, said a Mapuche teacher now living in Denver.

The disaster’s aftermath has been aggravated by building codes weakened in the 1970s after former dictator Augusto Pinochet took office, creating a situation in which older buildings withstood the recent earthquake better than newer, flimsier ones, Jose A. Mariman, an affiliate professor of Spanish at Metropolitan State College of Denver, said.

Mariman has accounted for his Mapuche relatives, some of whom live in Temuco, 200 to 250 miles from the Feb. 27 earthquake’s epicenter, and others who live in Santiago. A son of his, an anthropologist from the University of Massachusetts, was in the earthquake area but was unharmed.

Still, communication lines go down periodically and he has friends who have remained out of contact.

Mainly, he is upset that the Mapuche, among the country’s poorest citizens, have been short-changed on the aid afforded to non-Native Chile, despite the fact that they are Chile’s principal indigenous minority, numbering about one million.

Official reports indicate that in some coastal towns and villages near Concepción at least 50 percent of homes were destroyed, while the chaotic, post-earthquake circumstances in rural Mapuche communities “seem to have been forgotten,” he said.

In one coastal village, Tirua – described by Mariman as the only town in Chile with an indigenous (Mapuche) mayor – a fishing vessel was stranded in the street and houses had collapsed into piles of lumber while residents sought drinkable water, food and fuel.

“They believe they’re being discriminated against,” he said. “They are south of the central area where the government is concentrating help. The indigenous people are worried.”

It may be worse in other fishing villages, because “we don’t know too much right now about the coastal areas.”

The segregation of the Mapuche from mainstream assistance is not surprising, given their place in Chilean society, and “It’s a lot like the American Indians here,” said Mariman, 50, who is a U.S. citizen with a wife and two children in Denver.

He described government policies in Chile that divested Mapuche of their land and put them in reservation-like areas where geographic isolation was combined with economic and social isolation. Many later went to the city – often Santiago – to perform low-wage work, and some, like many of his family members, have returned to Temuco and similar places of origin to resume a former lifestyle.

Some members of the Mapuche and other indigenous groups anticipated disaster, and “when they felt the earth shake, they began running to the hills. Now people are doing a lot of religious ceremonies,” Mariman said, explaining that some shamans had been preparing for the event after the world-record Chilean earthquake of 1960 centered not far from Temuco.

“A Mapuche shaman said beforehand that it was coming – a cultural response to this kind of thing.”