Nov 12, 2010

Mapuche: Chile’s Media Favors Fluff Over Grit


Indigenous community ignored by national media despite 400 years of mistreatment. Government has a duty to resolve the issue


Below is an article published by Daily Lobo:


One of the hardest parts about living abroad, in my experience, is dealing with homesickness.

I miss friends, family and food on a daily basis.

It is also hard being abroad because you feel like you don’t have history with your surroundings. While I am here for six months, I always know in the back of my mind that I am going back to Albuquerque shortly, so I can only make so many connections.

Every piece of stunning handmade copper jewelry I buy, I think, “This is just one more thing I have to bring back in my luggage.” Every time I hear news that affects Chileans, it only sinks in so far because my situation here is temporary.

I feel like the thoughts and feelings I have about an issue here don’t matter because I don’t have a real way to represent my thoughts. There are also native residents living in probably every country who don’t have representation in government and policy-making. In the case of Chile, it is the Mapuche people, who represent about 5 percent of Chile’s population.

I’m sure you all know the story of the 33 Chilean miners, and by now, the story is stored in your mind collecting brain dust. And like me, you are probably pleased there was so much support and attention to the rescue of the miners.

For example, all 33 miners have an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia and were given new clothes, just to name a few presents. And they deserve to enjoy themselves after what they endured.

But here in Chile, there is a feeling of discontent with the Chilean media because they often do not cover stories of importance, such as the unsafe mining conditions. Instead, they focus more on the shiny stories, such as the celebrity soccer stars and the miners’ fairytale rescue.

But there is another heartbreaking story in Chile you probably haven’t heard of. It has been going on for more than 400 years in different forms. According to, the Mapuche were Chile’s first inhabitants, and battled with the Incans and the Spanish conquistadors for years to maintain their land, mostly in the southern half of Chile. After Chile gained its independence in the 1800s, the Mapuche had new wars to fight.

The most recent began July 12 when about 35 Mapuche prisoners in Chilean jails began a hunger strike in protest of the application of the anti-terrorist law created by dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1985.

Many Mapuche were jailed because they retaliated against the government’s unfair prosecution of their people and the misuse of their land. They used demonstrations, vandalism and arson to call attention to their cause. In some cases, they acted against companies who built businesses on their land and desecrated sacred cemeteries with deforestation and mining.

According to the law, Mapuche prisoners can be held in prison for up to two years without a formal charge. When they are tried in a court, it’s the military court, which has a reputation for being brutal, not the civilian court. They can also be sent to prison based on the testimonies of anonymous sources.

According to Alexandra Reed, a reporter for the Santiago Times, “The strikers demanded that all charges brought against them under the counter-terrorism legislation be dropped, and even more importantly, they requested direct dialogue with the Chilean government regarding the Mapuche struggle for political and territorial autonomy. President Sebastián Piñera initially refused to respond to the strikers’ demands and enter into negotiations on the grounds that a hunger strike was, in his words, ‘an illegitimate instrument of pressure in a democracy.’”

After 89 days of stalling and inaction by the government, the Mapuche prisoners ended their strike when Piñera said he would drop the charges against the prisoners, and they could be tried in a civilian court. But there was no guarantee of what might happen to future Mapuche prisoners.

A professor told me that while the miners were trapped in the San José Mine, they sent a note to the hunger strikers telling them to be strong, and that they had the miners’ support, but the government destroyed it.

Now that the strike is over, it is the duty of the government and media, both Chilean and worldwide, to make sure Piñera keeps his promise to the Mapuche people, the original inhabitants and liberators of Chile.