From the May 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 5)


Rage of the Mapuche

Robert Taylor, World Press Review contributing editor

The century-old grievances of the indigenous Mapuches against the territorial, economic, and political encroachments of the majority Hispanic-origin population in southern Chile have fueled rising frustration leading to sporadic outbursts of violent confrontation in recent months, Rodrigo Barría Reyes reported in Santiago’s conservative El Mercurio (Feb. 4).

“The government must recognize that it is facing an explosive social reality, with a Mapuche community each time more its actions, and a group of farmers fearful of being attacked, who now appear determined to defend themselves,” Barría Reyes observed after touring the mountainous southern region. “Things are dangerously close to becoming a spiral of violence that will be difficult to stop.”

Official estimates indicate that only a handful of the nation’s nearly 3,000 Mapuche communities have participated in land occupations, assaults, and vandalism, primarily directed at high visibility economic targets such as major logging sites and the planned Ralco hydroelectric dam on the upper Bío-Bío River.

But the El Mercurio correspondent noted an escalation in Mapuche violence against private agricultural estates, rupturing decades of peaceful coexistence between the native and Hispanic-origin populations. The militants’ agenda has broadened from the return of native homelands to Mapuche control to the bolder political vision of recognition as a separate people entitled at least to limited self-governance and autonomy.

Current efforts by the federal government to expand land reform and strengthen indigenous rights “will not serve to appease a problem rooted in...acute poverty...and a growing spirit of indigenous independence,” Barría Reyes wrote.

Mauricio Buendía, correspondent for Santiago’s leftist biweekly Punto Final (Feb. 15), described the militarization of the Mapuche territory as a troubling symptom of “the degree of hysteria that the reaction of the government, the farmers, the forestry companies, and the political establishment has reached….The call to the military to resolve by force social and political conflicts...constitutes a sad and dangerous constant.”

The only lasting solution, Buendía argued, “is to recognize the political rights of the Mapuche people and nation and to allow them, in sovereignty, to decide their own future.”

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