By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
ARAUCANÍA, Chile – The indigenous Mapuche Nation will not participate in the upcoming annual Chilean independence celebrations because they perceive Chile to be an oppressive state. The Mapuche have been actively seeking land reform and regional autonomy for the last several years, often leading to violent confrontations with the Chilean government in the state of Araucanía. Last month the military police shot Mendoza Collío, a Mapuche activist, to death in an effort to remove activists from a piece of land they had symbolically seized.
Land reform is a part of Prime Minister Bachelet’s indigenous policy, however the pace of reform is slow. This has led to the use of civil disobedience to encourage the government to move more quickly. The use of land invasions began after the Mapuche were not granted an audience with President Bachelet or with the Governor of the state of Araucanía.
The international community has criticized the the Chilean government’s reaction to the land seizures. The executive director of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, called the August killing of Mendoza Collío an “unjustified homicide”. The Chilean government is currently using an anti-terrorism statute from the Pinochet era to punish Mapuche protesters who seize and destroy property. Prosecutors may call unidentified witnesses, withhold evidence for long periods, deny bail, and double the length of sentences under this statute.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the anti-terrorism law to be a violation of international law. Similarly, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racism has criticized the law because it is applied “principally to members of the Mapuche community, for acts committed in the context of social demands and related to the vindication of their ancestral land rights.”
Regional autonomy is a goal of numerous Mapuche groups who use both protest and the political process to further their goals. Groups call for a reconstituted, decentralized local government and a new constitution that would recognize Chile as a plurinational state and raise Mapudungun to the status of an official language. The national legislature is asked to reserve seats for Mapuche representatives.
While Mapuche leaders have pledged to continue their struggle, the independence celebration will go on, with special requirements that all Chilean children participate in military processions. A Mapuche man remarked, “It pains many of us to see our sons and brothers participating in military parades because this is the same organization that has been raping and killing our families over the centuries.”
For more information, please see:
The Santiago Times – Fiestas Patrias – Whose Party is It? – 16 September 2009
Upside Down World – The Mapuche Nation Ups the Ante – 16 September 2009
World Press Review – Chile’s Mapuches Call for Regional Autonomy – 15 September 2009