This is a new opportunity we are offering the Chilean state: the opportunity to correct the historical relationship that it has maintained with the Mapuche people, characterised by subjection, colonialism, assimilation and ethnocidal integration
By Daniela Estrada
SANTIAGO, Jan 8 (IPS) – The Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous group, are tired of the promises of social justice and greater participation in decision-making voiced by the last three centre-left governments. Their leaders thus met with President Michelle Bachelet to propose a new working relationship.
“The president acknowledged the Chilean state’s ‘historical debt’ to the Mapuche people, agreed to appoint a special interlocutor to engage in dialogue, and promised to report in March how the process will be implemented,” indigenous leader Miguel Melin told IPS after Thursday’s meeting.
“During her electoral campaign, the president invited us to engage in debate, and today we have brought concrete proposals,” commented Melin, one of the 40 Mapuche Indians who travelled from the southern region of Araucanía to Santiago to meet with Bachelet at the Palace of La Moneda, the seat of government.
He appreciated the fact that the president had agreed to visit Araucanía to convey her reply to the Mapuche requests in person, saying it was an essential symbolic gesture to establish that there is a real will to make progress in the dialogue, although he said he hoped for “deeds” rather than “words.”
The social, political and territorial proposals presented last week arose from a “trawun” (meeting, in the Mapuzungun language) held on Nov. 10-11 in Quepe, in Araucanía, which is home to 23.5 per cent of Chile’s 600,000 Mapuche Indians.
The meeting was attended by approximately 3,000 people belonging to 34 Mapuche communities and organisations from the southern Bío-Bío, Araucanía and Los Lagos regions.
Melin stated that the proposals made to Bachelet represent the consensus of the majority of the Mapuche people, as nearly all their organisations were represented. The only exceptions were the Council of All Lands, headed by Aucán Huilcamán, and the extremist Arauco Malleco Coordination.
The 51-page document, “Proposals by Mapuche Territorial Organisations to the State of Chile,” begins with a historical review of the complex relationship over the centuries between this indigenous people and the state.
The document sets out a number of proposals for political participation, the right to self-determination, the recovery of ancestral lands, economic development, education, health, lawmaking and justice.
The Mapuche organisations behind the initiative want the government to appoint a “valid interlocutor at the highest level” to negotiate with them, who will be committed to agreeing a joint “working agenda,” and who will communicate the proposals to the executive, legislative and judicial branches and to the public at large.
The Mapuches’ assessment of their situation is very clear. “For 17 years we have been promised greater social justice and participation; over and over again we have been assured that there will be constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples and that Convention 169 of the ILO (International Labour Organisation — about respect for indigenous peoples within independent states) will be ratified, but to this day neither of these assurances have been fulfilled,” the document reads.
They say they are tired of the paternalistic assistance policies applied since 1990 by the three previous governments formed by the centre-left coalition, which also supports socialist President Michelle Bachelet, in office since March 2006.
In the view of this ethnic group, the government is continuing to promote private investment in Mapuche territories, such as forestry plantations, hydroelectric stations, pulp and paper mills, geothermal power plants, highways, airports and rubbish dumps –projects that rob them of their ancestral lands, interfere with their culture and undermine their quality of life.
“We don’t want our aspirations to be shelved and forgotten again, nor do we want to be offered programmes and projects that aren’t definitive solutions to our demands. We want a new relationship between the Chilean state and the Mapuche people,” the document states.
One of the main aspirations of the Mapuche people is “self-determination, expressed in some form of territorial or political autonomy, or according to any other formula.”
Pending a decision on the best way to implement self-determination, they propose the recognition of a national Mapuche parliament able to take binding decisions, modification of the present electoral law so that members of this indigenous people can win seats in the Chilean Congress, and elections by popular vote for regional authorities (mayors and governors).
They are also demanding the “restitution of usurped land” by means of expropriation, and the “control, possession and use” of the natural resources in “Mapuche territory,” defined as the Araucanía region and adjacent districts (comunas) in the Los Lagos and Bío-Bío regions, between 600 and 800 kilometres south of Santiago.
The Mapuche people also want stimulation of their economy, by means of local development plans in their territory — under the leadership of their own organisations û, conservation of native flora and fauna, and research and development of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar energy.
In order for income distribution to be more equitable, they are proposing that the state pay them compensation for the investment projects that have had a negative impact on their way of life, and argue that they should receive tax exemption for access to technology. They want a bank, to be managed by themselves, and financed with taxes on large companies located in what they consider to be Mapuche territory.
They are also requesting tax exemption for Mapuche producers, and for native peoples to be protected in any free trade treaties signed by Chile.
In regard to education, they are demanding an autonomous institutional structure for education, in charge of defining educational policies. They consider it essential that their language be officially recognised, that “wise Mapuche elders” be incorporated into educational centres, and programmes to promote postgraduate study among Mapuche professionals be created.
Another request is that their health system, based on a balance between the person, nature and the supernatural, should be recognised, protected and respected, although they do not reject allopathic (conventional Western) medicine. They state that the recovery of native forests, the source of a great many medicinal plants, is vital for the development of their health system.
The same is true of their justice system, which has territorial peculiarities.
They urge the authorities to approve and ratify all international treaties for the protection of indigenous peoples, not to apply anti-terrorism laws in Mapuche conflicts, and to free what they call Mapuche political prisoners.
“This is a new opportunity we are offering the Chilean state: the opportunity to correct the historical relationship that it has maintained with the Mapuche people, characterised by subjection, colonialism, assimilation and ethnocidal integration,” they said.
If they do not obtain the response they hope for, Melin said that “they would continue to work on their agenda, strengthening their organisations and building a larger and more united force to represent them.” He did not rule out any form of protest or demonstration.
Melin said that the Mapuche people are politically experienced, and have a wide range of professionals among them who are qualified to discuss any subject.
Roberto Mardones, a political scientist at the private University Academy of Christian Humanism, said it was positive that the proposal had been drawn up by the Mapuche people themselves and not by a political party, which could have devalued their “legitimate demands.”
However, he told IPS that it would be difficult for these demands to be met in the short term, particularly those referring to territorial and political autonomy, because “they are not a part of the collective imagination of the public,” who on the whole are not in favour of “dividing” the country.
“Chilean society is not deeply fragmented, there isn’t an ethnic split” that would make such an outcome possible, he said. However, he indicated that progress could be made on matters like health and education. (END/2007)
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