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LATIN AMERICA | 22-04-2022 20:01

Mapuches seek agreements to solve 'historic debt' with Chile

Representatives from Mapuche communities meet in the southern city of Temuco in search of agreements that allow them to settle, the "historical debt" that they consider that the Chilean State owes them.

Representatives of Mapuche communities have met in the southern city of Temuco in search of agreements that will allow them to settle, despite their differences, their "historical debt" that believe is owed to them by the Chilean State.

"There is a historical debt with our people, with our ancestors, but that debt has not yet been settled and it will take a long time to settle it," said Francisca Huirilef, a counsellor for the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (CONADI) in Chile.

Huirilef participated in a National Meeting of Mapuche Mayors and Councillors, which took place between Thursday and Friday in Temuco, capital of the Araucanía region, where most of the indigenous communities that are calling for the restitution of lands that they consider theirs due to ancestral rights are based. .

The Mapuches, or "people of the Earth," are the indigenous inhabitants of Chile and Argentina. They say that after the multiple political processes that resulted from the arrival of the Spaniards, they were reduced to living on about five percent of what used to be their land. Today, it is mostly, in the hands of forestry companies.

The region, some 600 kilometres south of Santiago, is a frequent scene of arson attacks and attacks, often attributed to radical Mapuche groups. This Friday, hooded men fired war rifles at vehicles on the road to the town of Ercilla, leaving a driver seriously injured after being shot.

"We can move forward but with willing," added Huirilef, in response to the dialogue proposal launched by the government of President Gabriel Boric, who took office on March 11. 

The leftist leader's is opposed to the militarisation of the region ordered by his predecessor, conservative former president Sebastián Piñera.

We seek "dialogue with action," said Social Development Minister Jeanette Vega, who participated in the mayors' meeting.

Boric, visiting the north of the country, stated for his part that "declarations of good intentions are not enough."

"What is required here is a profound change in the policy that the State of Chile has followed to address this conflict. Dialogue is the way, but it is not the result," he declared.

His government, he added, is going to "change the policy regarding the purchase of land, in order to provide a solution and a decompression of the conflict based on the legitimate demands of the Mapuche people."

He warned those threatening violence that it would not stand. "Those who act through violence are not going to moving forward. That's not our way," said the president. 

 

Fight for land

Some communities are keen on an institutional solution through state purchases.

"There are almost 800 communities that are on the list with applicability to buy land from them," CONADI national adviser Ana Llao told AFP.

However, other communities have decided to fight against forestry companies through boycotts and sabotage through arson attacks on their machinery and roadblocks.

"We have links with many people who fight against the foresters, who are the ones who have caused a lot of damage to our territory ... they have put the economic situations above our experiences as Mapuche," said Juan Pichún, lonko (leader) of the Temulemu community, and spokesman for the Coordinadora Arauco Malleco (CAM).

"They have been responsible and that is what we we are trying to dispute the spaces again," he added.

In the midst of these disputes, in mid-March Chile's Interior and Security Minister Izkia Siches failed in an attempt to visit an indigenous community. Her presence was met with shots fired into the air.

 

Self-determination

Some communities even go further, proposing the idea that the Mapuche people should be recognised as a Nntion and achieve self-determination.

Werken (spokesperson) for the Lleulleu territory, José Huenchunao, says indigenous peoples should not be governed by the rules or laws of the Chilean State, which in his opinion "has violated [the Mapuche people] by structures that have been imposed on them."

"We understand that no people or nation that considers itself a people or a nation wants to be subject to or dominated by other structures that are foreign to a people or a Nation. I understand that the Mapuche people have their structures, their authorities and a whole system of ordering," Huenchunao said.

Internal differences on the way to recovering lands does not cloud the common objective of the indigenous people. The drafting of Chile's new Constitution and the recognition of Chile as a "plurinational State" has raised expectations among leaders, although finding the solution is still complex.

"What have other countries that have a territorial conflict done?" Asked the leader of the Mulato Huenulef community, Hilario Huirilef. 

"When there is a territorial conflict like what we have here, we have to look for an intermediary," which could be the United Nations, he pointed out.

"Perhaps if the United Nations got involved and could assign a person who give us guarantees to us Mapuche and also to the State.''

 

–TIMES/AFP

 

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