Violence In Chile Stemming From Indigenous Land Rights Has Increased In Recent Years, No Attempt For Negotiations

Members of the Mapuche Lavkenche Resistance group burned around 30 properties in southern Chile following a decades-long conflict between the government and Mapuche communities. The attack followed deliberations in Chile’s government to extend the state of emergency implemented due to increased reports of violence between Mapuche groups and the Chilean government. Reuters reports that the Chilean Congress extended the state of emergency enacted in October of this year until January 10th in response to the attacks. Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado said that “the seriousness of these attacks warrants going ahead with the state of emergency.” 

Big forestry companies and non-indigenous landowners occupying land that Mapuche groups claim is their own has caused the current Mapuche and Chilean government conflict. Hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment and property have been destroyed during daily attacks from Mapuche groups, and recently the groups have also been targeting small farms and homes, according to Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera also reports that Chilean special forces have been accused of corruption, human rights abuse, falsifying evidence, and killing unarmed Mapuche. The tension between the two groups has increased recently, as the Chilean government believes that the Mapuche are accelerating attacks while Mapuche communities believe that they are responding to purposeful intimidation from the state. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have condemned the Chilean government’s actions towards the Mapuche. The United Nations has also criticized the state for using the Anti-Terrorism Law in an attempt to justify their treatment of the Mapuche.

The Mapuche have claimed the land in the Araucanía region as their ancestral homeland, and their attacks have been increasing in violence as more Mapuche groups are added to the mix. People who have lived in the region for decades are now referring to it as the “Wild West,” as they believe that the government has abandoned them, according to Al Jazeera. Due to the increase of attacks on landowners and forestry companies, Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, is being pressured by business, agriculture, and conservative coalitions to increase military presence in the region. The indigenous guerrilla army known as Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), one of the more established Mapuche groups who have visions of a separate Mapuche state, claim that they have nothing to do with recent deaths and instead are taking on territorial recovery processes. Héctor Llaitul, the leader of CAM, said that he wants Mapuche communities to completely disaffiliate with anything identified with Western culture, but that is not a commonly shared desire. According to Al Jazeera, 12.5% of Chile identifies as indigenous, and the majority do not want a complete separation from Chile. While the Chilean government has been identifying the Mapuche as terrorists in order to continue attacks with popular support, the Mapuche groups involved in the violence are also forcing people to choose a side in the conflict. 

There have been no successful attempts for negotiations between Mapuche activists and the Chilean state. Instead, both sides are perpetuating violence. The Chilean state is committing human rights abuses and attempting to frame Mapuche communities in a negative light, and simultaneously Mapuche groups have engaged in violent attacks to regain their homeland. The issue of indigenous land rights is not a problem native to Chile, and it is an example of why fighting fire with fire will negatively impact both sides of the conflict. People who have lived on the occupied land for decades are unwilling to give up their land, which is understandable. Additionally, the Mapuche want their ancestral homeland returned to them, which is equally fathomable. There is no way to abide by both sides’ demands, which is why negotiation needs to be at the forefront of this conflict. 

Father Carlos Bresciani of Chile believes that Mapuche autonomy will be very hard to attain and that the main focus should be “how communities participate in decision-making in their own territories.” Al Jazeera reports that the majority of indigenous Chileans want some form of self-government within the country of Chile and the appreciation of Mapuche culture. It is also important to understand that the majority of indigenous Chileans are not part of the groups committing violent acts against forestry companies and non-indigenous landowners— only a small subset of the population are involved in the guerrilla groups. However, all indigenous Chileans feel the effects of the conflict and the oppression they face from the government. According to Al Jazeera, the Mapuche earn around 60% less than the average Chilean citizen and have much worse standards of living. Their land is being exploited by big forestry companies and they often do not have accessible water or electricity. Jaime Huenchumir, the president of the Mapuche Economic Confederation who was present at an unproductive meeting between Mapuche and Chilean leaders, believes that the main issue with the conflict is that “the state will never advance towards a political solution if they wait for a single leader to emerge.” The different Mapuche groups all have different methods and specific desires, but their “demands are the same” and the government should put more effort into creating a constructive dialogue. 

Many indigenous peoples have a distrust of the government due to their many cases of abuse against the Mapuche, but the CAM’s leader, Llaitul, is open to a possible dialogue if international bodies are present during the meetings. So far, most of the attempted meetings have been at a local level and have not held much accountability. With international organizations and figures observing the proceedings, there will be more transparency and actions that are actually followed through with. It is essential that Mapuche communities are given more autonomy in the Chilean government and the only way that will happen is through open discussions. Using the military to scare the Mapuche into submission has only caused more violence, and non-indigenous citizens still feel like the government is not protecting them even with that intervention, according to Al Jazeera. Violence will only cause more violence, as will empty promises. There needs to be an international summit or another form of meeting that will highlight voices on both sides of the conflict. Without diplomatic action, the Mapuche groups and the Chilean government will only continue to wear each other down with no beneficial solution.

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