| Mapuches: The Politics of Exclusion in Chile.
Written by Justin Vogler
Wednesday, 07 June 2006
As four Mapuche activists imprisoned under draconian anti-terrorist
laws spend 70 days on a hunger strike, the troubled relationship between
the Chilean state and "the oldest of Chileans" is rockier than
Chile’s Michelle Bachelet shone during her presidential debut in
Europe last month. Hailed by Europe’s leaders and press as a progressive
icon, Bachelet leads a country seen as a model of political stability,
economic dynamism and social modernity.
But there was another side to Bachelet’s trip. As she touched down
in Madrid, Juan Guzmán - the Chilean Judge famed for his judicial
siege of General Pinochet - was giving an interview to El Pais. "The
police act brutally," said Guzmán, describing the persecution
of Chile’s Mapuche Indians. "They raid the villages and ransack
houses. With luck they decommission a sharp knife or a machete which is
often the only evidence used against suspects detained and charged under
anti-terrorist laws." (1)
Next day, the Portuguese literary Nobel Prize winner, Jose Saramago, challenged
Bachelet in person. "Do me a favor", pleaded the novelist.
"Look out for the Mapuches (…) the oldest of Chileans."
That evening, outside Madrid’s House of the Americas, Bachelet was
presented with a letter. "Dear President Bachelet," it read.
"It is incomprehensible that in Chile today there are over 200 law
suits involving Mapuches in which irregular laws, created by the military
to suppress opposition to the dictatorship, are applied."
This was good reason for these well coordinated protests. Light years
from Madrid’s glitz, in a prison in the Southern Chilean town of
Temuco, four inmates – three Mapuche Lonkos (community leaders),
Juan Marileo, Jaime Marileo, Juan Carlos Huenulao, and one non-Mapuche
activist, Patricia Troncoso - were entering their sixtieth day on hunger
strike. The four were given ten year sentences in 2002 after fire destroyed
108 acres of a pine plantation, valued at $600,000 USD, near the town
of Angol in Chile’s ninth region. No injury was caused and the convicted
deny starting the blaze.
Terrorism and Protest
The use of anti-terrorist laws in Mapuche trials has been condemned by
the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Rudolf
Stavehagen, by Amnesty International and by Human Rights Watch. José
Martinez Rios - regional head of the Chilean criminal defense service
for the ninth region - told me that if the Lonko’s case had been
filed under standard Chilean law then much of the prosecution’s
evidence, such as testimony from unidentified witnesses, would have been
Furthermore, the sentence would have been five, not ten, years, and the
detainees could have applied for remission. (2, 3)
I asked Martinez Rios if the use of antiterrorist laws in Chile was related
to the international "war on terror." "There is an indirect
connection," replied the lawyer carefully. "Obviously the Mapuche
trials occurred soon after the events of 7-11 which produced a certain
temptation for the Chilean authorities to use exceptional legal mechanisms."
In mid May, the Socialist senator for the ninth region, Alejandro Navarro,
and the bishop of Temuco, Monsignor Camilo Vial, convinced the four to
suspend their hunger strike after the senator presented a parliamentary
bill paving the way for an amnesty. After rightwing parliamentarians opposed
the bill, arguing that no concessions could be made with terrorists, the
hunger strike was resumed. In the last days of May, shuttle diplomacy
by Navarro convinced the Lonkos to await congress’s decision and
the strike was once again suspended. Medical sources say the condition
of the four is critical. (4)
Also in May, Chilean secondary school children - demanding that charges
for university entrance examines be scraped; that Pinochet era educational
laws be reformed; and that transport to and from schools be free - went
on strike and occupied schools throughout the country. These impressively
organized protests have rightly received enormous attention in the Chilean
press and have been extensively reported in the international media. They
have been widely heralded as "the first major challenge" for
the Bachelet government which has now met most of the pupil’s demands.
By contrast, the seventy day Mapuche hunger strike has been largely ignored
by the press and, with the exception of Senator Navarro, no one in government
seems to be regarding it as a "major challenge." When the Justice
Minister, Isidro Solis, was quizzed on the Mapuche’s fate, he simply
said that they would not be allowed to die, the authorities would force
feed them if necessary. (5)
A 2002 census found 700,000 indigenous people living in Chile, fewer than
5 % of the total population. Of these, 85 % are "people-of-the-land",
the literal translation of Mapu-che. The Mapuches were the only indigenous
Latin Americans not conquered by the Spanish and – after decades
of invasion, rout and retreat - the Conquistadores signed the treaty of
Quillin in 1641 recognizing a Mapuche state to the south of the river
Bio-Bio. The treaty was reaffirmed in 1803. (6)
After independence, Santiago didn’t recognize the territorial settlement
and following victory against Peru and Bolivia in the Pacific War in 1883
the Chilean army swept southwards incorporating the Mapuche territories
into the Chilean state. To this day Chilean history books refer to this
bloody conquest as the "pacification of the Araucania."
Throughout the twentieth century Santiago encouraged "colonization"
of the Araucania region by offering free land to European immigrants with
the result that the Mapuche territory shrunk, from 10 million hectares
in 1883, to under 500,000 today. Indeed, most of the original Mapuche
State is now owned by logging companies of which one, the Matte group,
possesses twice as much land as all the Mapuche communities combined.
I asked Senator Navarro if promotion of the logging industry in his region
was compatible with respect for the Mapuches’ rights. "The
indigenous people’s right to their lands is established by Chilean
law," Navarro told me. "Yet land conflicts between private interests
and indigenous communities are invariably resolved in favor of the corporations
with the complicity of the state."
So how could indigenous people’s rights and economic interests
"Compatibility is only possible if the indigenous people become
active partners in whatever business is to be developed on their lands,"
replied the Senator. "Being forced to sell or exchange their land
results in serious economic, moral and cultural damage to the communities."
Like their economic plight, the political marginalization of Chile’s
indigenous people is acute. The Chilean constitution doesn’t recognize
them and, unlike other Latin American states, Chile has not ratified the
International Labor Organization’s International indigenous people’s
rights convention (C169 1989).
In a bid to enter the political arena Aucán Huilcamán, from
the Mapuche organization Council of All Lands, attempted to run in the
2005 presidential race. His arrival on horse back in Santiago caused a
However, the electoral authority refused to place his name on the ballot
arguing that the 39,000 signatures he had collected in support of his
nomination had not been certified by public notary. The estimated notary
bill would have been 285,000 euros, a prohibitive sum for a Mapuche smallholder.
A month earlier Huilcamán had embarrassed the Santiago government
by denouncing a deal between the education ministry and Microsoft to produce
a version of Windows in the Mapuche language, Mapudungún. Huilcamán
complained that the Mapuche communities had not been consulted and that
the written script Microsoft wanted to use did not interpret the phonetics
of Mapudungún correctly. He said: "I’m not against the
internet. But Mapudungún is part of our cultural heritage and it
is us who should decide whether or not it appears on the internet."
Constitutional Recognition and the Specter of Bobby Sands
Prompted by Huilcamán, Bachelet pledged in her presidential campaign
to afford constitutional recognition to all of Chile’s indigenous
Jose Aylwin Oyarzún - co-director of the Temuco based Indigenous
People’s Rights Watch – praises the idea but insists it must
include more than legalistic rhetoric. "If constitutional recognition
is not linked to the recognition of collective rights it is not going
to help Chile’s indigenous people," he said. "However,
if recognition is associated withland rights, control over natural resources,
and the political rights to participation and autonomous decision making,
that could make a big difference." (8)
In whatever shape it takes, it currently looks unlikely that a recognition
bill would get the two thirds parliamentary backing needed for a constitutional
amendment. Aylwin attributes this to both embedded commercial interests
and to reactionary nationalism in congress. "For some conservatives
the only nation in Chile is the Chilean nation," he told me. "There
is a real fear of cultural diversity." Parliamentary conservatism
could also thwart the passage of Senator Navarro’s amnesty bill,
which Bachelet is now belatedly backing.
Pedro Cayuqueo is director of the Mapuche newspaper, Azkintuwue. He recalls
how Margaret Thatcher’s intransigence with the IRA hunger strikers
in the 1980s changed public perceptions of the Northern Ireland conflict.
In a column written at the beginning of May entitled "Iron Lady",
Cayuqueo, not unfairly, compared the apparent indifference of the Bachelet
government to Thatcher’s cold-bloodedness. Cayuqueo concluded on
a note of cautious optimism, however. "In the end, and even if the
stubborn facts appear to indicate the contrary", he wrote. "Michelle
Bachelet is not Margaret Thatcher." (9)
Justin Vogler is a correspondent for UpsideDownWorld.org. He lives in
1 - http://www.elpais.es/articulo/elpporint/20060508elpepuint_1/Tes/mapuches/manos/Guzm%C3%A1n
2 - http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/
3 - http://184.108.40.206/indigenous/rapporteur.htm
4 - http://www.ww4report.com/node/2002
5 - http://www.denverpost.com/latin/ci_3855435
6 - http://members.aol.com/mapulink2/english-2/pr-25.html
7 - http://www.atinachile.cl/node/3126
8 - http://www.observatorioderechosindigenas.cl/
9 - http://www.nodo50.org/azkintuwe/may5_1.htm
Photo from http://www.mapuexpress.net/?act=news&id=610