Oct 16, 2007

Mapuche: Mass Protest Maintains Pressure

Following the hunger-strike by Chief Calfunao, members of the Mapuche community have taken to the streets to peacefully urge the government to take steps in addressing the full recognition of the Mapuche.

Following the recent hunger-strike by Chief Calfunao, members of the Mapuche community have taken to the streets of Santiago to peacefully urge the government to take positive steps in addressing the constitutional and territorial recognition of the Mapuche.

Below are extracts from an article published by Trey Pollard and Rob Bartlett for The Santiago Times:

Thousands of supporters of Chile's indigenous Mapuche population peacefully took to the streets of Santiago on Monday [15 October 2007] to demand government recognition of their grievances and the liberation of imprisoned Mapuche activists throughout the country.

While most Chileans enjoyed a day off in commemoration of the annual Indigenous Peoples' day holiday (Día de la Raza), protesters at the annual march loudly and vibrantly filled large portions of Central Santiago's foremost avenue – the Alameda – for several hours throughout the morning and afternoon.

The crowd of approximately 4,000 marchers included hundreds of Mapuches in traditional dress, supporters from left-wing and anarchist political organizations, and brightly-costumed dancers and musicians. Gathering at the center of the Plaza Italia at the east end of the Alameda, the Mapuche commenced the day's events with a traditional prayer. Press photographers present at the event largely respected the request by organizers to not photograph the prayer ceremony. Mapuche activists then led a highly-organized procession several kilometers west down the Alameda to the Santa Lucia hill.

The annual march has been held since 1990 to call attention to the issues of concern for the Mapuche rights movement in Chile. Organizers said the purpose of this year's [2007] march is to highlight the failures of the current government to recognize the territorial rights of the Mapuche to land in southern and central Chile, and the government’s refusal to grant Mapuche communities some degree of self-determination.

“The government is denying the existence of a people. They are denying one of the most fundamental rights of life, and we are demonstrating against this,” Felipe Curivil of the Mapuche organization Meli Wixan Mapu told the Santiago Times. “We have had no response from the state at all, and this confirms how the repressive Chilean state is denying Mapuche rights.”

Under Chile’s current constitution, indigenous groups such as the Mapuche have no official recognition or status, and none of the nation’s legislators are of indigenous origin although most official estimates suggest the Mapuche and other indigenous groups account for about 10 percent of Chile’s population. Meanwhile, much of the land originally belonging to the Mapuche is owned by large-scale businesses or threatened by energy development. The continued plight of the Mapuche and the mistreatment of their ancestral lands, say activists, is a blight on the nation's history.

“There has been 500 years of denial and 500 years of the confiscation of our land and the abuse of our people. We want to condemn this and we want to condemn the Chilean state which represses our communities,” said Jorge Huenchullan of Meli Wixan Mapu. “The Chilean state continues to repress the communities that are struggling and fighting legitimately.”

[…] The cries of “Liberty for the Mapuche!” were frequently heard throughout the day's events and displayed on numerous banners hoisted by marchers. Organizer Felipe Curivil echoed the sentiments of the protesters' chants by calling for Chile’s government to allow Mapuche-run governments to form.

“Our communities have every right to organize themselves autonomously,” Curivil told the Santiago Times. “We want to tell the state to leave us in peace and to let us carry on as a Mapuche people.”

Earlier in the week, Mapuche activists in the southern town of Araucania seized and occupied property there, claiming it originally belonged to their ancestors. After police intervention, 39 of the activists were arrested and detained. This is just the latest in incidents that have continued for years. In May [2007], 14 Mapuche occupied offices belonging to a top foresty industry executive, arguing that he had invaded Mapuche land.

Protesters on Monday [15 October 2007] also loudly demanded freedom for these detained Mapuche activists, which they called “political prisoners.”

The turnout for Monday's [15 October 2007] protest was noticeably larger than earlier public demonstrations this year, such as the August 29 [2007] labor union protest and the marches commemorating the September 11 anniversary of the 1972 military coup. Still, the Mapuche march received little coverage from Chile's three predominant daily newspapers – El Mercurio, La Nacion, and La Tercera – which previously gave extensive minute-by-minute coverage of the August 29 and September 11 events.

[…] Monday's [15 October 2007] march was peaceful, with police and protesters interacting cordially. Police officials told the Santiago Times that Monday's demonstration was entirely peaceful, and no arrests were reported.

The presence of the Mapuche people in the territory now recognized as Chile predates the 16th century. Organized Mapuche groups offered fierce resistance to Spanish colonization, but in the mid 18th century the Mapuche fell under the rule of the Chilean Republic. Thousands of Mapuche were killed and nearly all their territory seized. Approximately one million Mapuche presently live in Chile and Argentina, many clustered in Chile's Regions VII, VIII, and IX.