By Elizabeth Roberts
Jun 2, 2011
The Mapuche nation in South America is being marginalized by rigid and ineffective government policies.
For the Mapuche people, loss of land means loss of identity and without this life is meaningless.
Land is essential for the development of Mapuche culture; the land has the graves of their ancestors and is where their religious celebrations take effect.
“We are first ground and then people, so first ‘Mapu’ land and then ‘che’ people. For us, the earth is our mother,” Mapuche lonko (chief) Juana Calfunao, explained to members of the European Parliament in Brussels last March.
The story of Juana’s town, as with so many indigenous towns in Latin America, is one of a history of territorial dispossession, genocide, and cultural devastation, which continues to ruin the lives of the natives.
The Juan Paillalef community has been the victim of systematic persecution by the Chilean government. Lonka Calfunao told the Parliament how Chilean authorities and industry executives have tried to take her land away.
“The Chilean State and the forestry companies … have burned my house four times now. … We have no home to live in,” she said. “After they burned my house, the forest companies wanted to take my land illegally and the army came with tanks and 300 police. My son and I on foot defended the community against attack helicopters.”
The Mapuche are native to the southern cone of South America where they were recognized as an autonomous nation by Spain in 1641 after successfully defeating the Spanish conquests on their land. In the late 1800s however, the Mapuche were victims of extermination campaigns carried out by Argentine and Chilean armies against native peoples living in the Patagonia region.
In these military campaigns, native leaders and soldiers were killed, and communities were enslaved with girls and women forced into servitude and prostitution.
The nation states took the Mapuche land, enfolding it into their developing economic structures.
Although on paper Chile has seemed ready to protect the rights of indigenous by signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human Rights Charter, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, there is still a wide disparity in practice between these rights and the protections the Mapuche actually receive.
In a 2003 report on the Mapuche, the International Federation on Human Rights said, “There is a considerable gap between the legal protection of indigenous rights during this first democratic period in Chile and the actual development of public policies regarding indigenous issues by the Chilean government.”
The Mapuch people, numbering approximately one million, are still subject to ethnic discrimination.
Besides institutional discrimination, the recent efforts by the Mapuche to recover their native land has brought them into conflict with transnational companies that want access to the land’s natural resources.
Mapuche scholar and director of History at Sorbonne University in Paris, Arauco Chihualaf, told the European Parliament that natural resources are the primary source of conflict between the Mapuche and multinational corporations. “The advance of the globalized economy governed by transnational companies that exploit basic resources, such as mining, agricultural and water, generates conflicts because many of these riches are found in indigenous land,” he said.
In the southern regions of Chile, Chihualaf said that the forest industry, which is linked to transnational capital groups, is fighting with the Mapuche over land resources.
In Argentine Patagonia, the Mapuche community of Santa Rosa Leleque is in conflict with the multinational clothing maker Benetton Group, which claims 500 hectares of land occupied by the Santa Rosa community. One of the largest landowners in Argentina, the Italian Benetton family, owns around a million hectares in the south of the country.
When Chile’s largest electric company Endesa, built the Ralco hydroelectric dam, upstream waters submerged Mapuche land displacing the local Mapuche population.
Chihualaf said the native people are not opposed development, which also means the creation of jobs for them, but want fair development practices. The indigenous Indians he said, reject “uneven development, the unevenness that has exacerbated poverty in the indigenous population compared to the prosperity of transnationals.”
He added that the native people reject “abusive land occupation, population displacement, damage to the environmental balance, excessive rate hikes, such as on water, threats, and abuse of their organizations and leaders.”
Institutional Violence Against Children
Mapuche youth are victims of abuse by Chilean authorities with reports of Mapuche children and adolescents who live in communities that are mobilizing to recover their ancestral lands being wounded by pellet guns and tear gas, and harassed, tortured, and illegally interrogated in schools. Mapuche youth also receive death threats and live with the fear of kidnapping and forced immersion, according to a report by Mapuche Ombudsman Claudia Molina presented in January 2010, before the Committee on the Rights of the United Nations.
The violence by the Chilean government against Mapuche children was also condemned in April this year by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, D.C.
Under an Association Agreement between EU and Chile, European investment is providing more than 16 million euros (US$22.9 million) to Chile for social cohesion starting in 2007 until 2013.
Catalonian Member of Parliament Oriol Junqueras, said at the Brussels conference, that as a major player in the world market, the EU has significant bargaining power with international leaders and with Chile, and that “to the extent that the EU is able to reconcile these trade agreements with peoples’ rights … we will be much closer to our goal of a more just and equal opportunities.”
The program director of France-Libertés Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, Tapia Olavarria Rodrigue, said that one step the EU needs to take is to stop implementing policies that cause other countries to develop systems that unsustainably extract natural resources and threaten the environment and the livelihoods and fundamental rights of indigenous peoples.
Source: The Epoch Times.