May 29th, 2010
Indian Country Today reports that Chile’s new president, Sebastian Piñera, may be steering the government toward greater conflict with the Mapuches.
Mapuche activists have resumed demonstrations to pressure the government to return ancestral lands and free their jailed leaders. On April 23, approximately 200 members of the Mapuche Territorial Alliance protested in the southern city of Temuco demanding the government restart negotiations for the purchase of approximately 24,000 acres of land claimed by dozens of communities. Protest organizers warned that Mapuche activists would occupy some of those properties in one month if the government didn’t resume the negotiations.
Following the protest, the director of the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (CONADI), Francisco Painepán, told the local press the government would continue the policy of the previous administration, purchasing land for Mapuche communities that can prove their claim to it, but its first priority would be to help the communities that suffered the most earthquake damage.
Two weeks later, Piñera announced a plan to restructure CONADI in order to make it more efficient, and prevent the corruption that tainted past land purchases. He also said CONADI would dedicate more of its resources to urban populations, since an estimated 70 percent of the country’s Indians now live in cities.
The announcement drew fire from activists, who pointed out that rural Mapuche suffer twice the poverty rate of the rest of the country, which is why so many move to cities. Studies have shown that one of the main causes of that poverty is the fact that most Mapuche families lack enough farmland to support themselves.
Juan Jorge Faundes, executive secretary of the Fundación Instituto Indígena, said Piñera’s plan to improve CONADI’s administrative capacity is good news, since the institution’s slow and inefficient response to Mapuche demands has fueled conflicts in the past. (It sounds like the BIA in the United States.)
Faundes explained that after the Chilean army conquered the Mapuche in the late 19th century, the state granted survivors communal “mercy titles” for a total of 1.2 million acres – about one-tenth of their pre-conquest territory. However, the Mapuche lost more than about half of that land during the 20th century due to laws dividing communal land and an array of shady deals. (That sounds like the Allotment Era in the United States.) He said the government’s land restitution has thus far been limited to areas covered by mercy titles that communities lost control of, but some Mapuche groups are pushing for the return of territory that Chile took from them during the conquest and autonomy from the Chilean state.