Jul 17, 2009

Mapuche: 'No Effective Autonomy Without Political Will'

Sample ImageRepression under past dictatorship, criminalization under new democratic government. Despite some ambiguous governmental efforts, the Mapuche are still fighting for survival.

Below is an article published by Radio Mundial   (originally in Spanish)

This is not a soft statement, especially when it comes from a political exile, victim of the former Chilean Dictatorship: “There is still much to do in Chile regarding democracy compliance and respect for Mapuche’s rights”, says Héctor Zavala, President of the Chilean Colectivo por los Derechos Humanos. Basically, the Mapuche want rights to their ancestral lands to be recognized, which today are in possession of mining and forest companies.  

Until today, 50 Mapuche militants are in prison and 15 others remain awaiting trial, according to Franco-Chilean Associations. Assembled on the 29 May 2009 in Paris to denounce the “criminalization of the Mapuche’s fight”, those Associations have tried to question Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s President, during her visit to France. There was no response.    

“Indigenous Peoples and the people who tried to protect their rights were constant victims of human rights violations”, published Amnesty International in its 2009 report. The region inhabited by the Mapuche is completely militarized. “There is a sort of military protected border between the lands belonging to the forest companies and the indigenous lands”, according to Joffrey Rossi, a French documentary producer, co-director of the film “Luchar para continuar a vivir” (Fighting for Survival). On 11 April 2009, ten Mapuche were arrested under the Antiterrorist Law. A heritage of the dictatorship period, this law multiplies by three the penalties of serious crimes.         

In spite of Bachelet’s promises during her presidential campaign, the law is still applicable and creates an atmosphere of fear within indigenous communities. Facing criticism from the World Organization Against Torture (OMTC)’s, the President replied: “In Chile nobody is in prison because of political or ethnical reasons, but because they have committed crimes.”
Since 2008, criminalization applies also to those who are interested in indigenous resistance. Numerous Chileans and Europeans journalists were imprisoned and expelled from the country. […]The repression aggravates as the movement intensifies its struggle. […]
“We aspire an autonomous regime within a Federal State”, explains Aucán Huilcamán, a Mapuche leader. “[The Mapuche] were expropriated and dispossessed with State’s complicity. After that, ‘justice’ came and forced law compliance and respect for big company’s private proprieties”, according to Joffrey Rossi.

After Bachelet’s Election in 2006, progress in the Human Rights field were modest. On 15 September 2008, Chile ratified the 169 Convention of the International Labour Organization, which institutionally recognizes a surveillance right of indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands. But this fundamental text did not provoke much enthusiasm. […]

Furthermore, the Social Pact for Multiculturalism, launched by the government on April 2008 remains without real content. “This policy is part of the traditional strategy of the Chilean government that shifts between repression and aid.  It is basically used for silencing international criticism and calming indigenous leaders”. This Pact is aimed at investing in the body responsible of buying the Mapuche’s lands of its current landowners. But still “the lands that are offered to the families are far away from the original communities”. Chile was criticized in the past [May 2009] during the “Universal Periodic Review” of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Racism and discriminations against the Mapuche has led to some Mapuche renouncing their origins and to change their family names. “It is a fight for survival, if they don’t succeed in reaffirming their rights, they will loose everything that defines them as Mapuche”, according to Joffrey Rossi. “They fight for survival”.