Mapuche – a ‘terrorist threat’ in Southern Chile ?

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The land once occupied by the Mapuche once stretched from the Pacific coast and islands of Chile across the Andes into Argentina. The Mapuche are still fighting for recognition both in Argentina and Chile. In Chile’s it is loggerheads with the two largest forestry companies, and a government crackdown on terrorism using anti-terrorist laws.

The likely re-election of President Sebastian Piñera in the elections later this year is likely to again refocus on improving the relationship with the native Mapuche. The early indication is that Piñera being a law-and-order candidate intends to take an authoritarian approach where he finds it is necessary if negotiation does not work. The current government’s soft approach is clearly not working.

The Mapuche is Chile’s largest indigenous ethnicity, constituting about five percent of the national population and has been in a struggle not unlike many of the other indigenous peoples such as the North American Indians, Australia’s Aborigines and the New Zealand Maori’s to recuperate lost land and halt projects that they feel could threaten the environment.

Mapuche communities and organizations have occupied land, blocked roads and staged other protests, but their more extreme members have becoming radicalised, anarchists, hijacking and burned logging trucks, killing local farmers, bombing building and set fire to tree plantations.

During the past decade, at least a thousand Mapuche have been arrested, imprisoned tribal leaders have staged hunger strikes, and police have injured hundreds of, and killed three indigenous protesters.

Not unlike other indigenous groups around the world, rural Mapuche suffers twice the national poverty rate, which is why so many have moved to cities.

History of attrition

Mapuche means “people of the land” in their language, Mapudungun, and their territory once stretched from the Pacific coast and islands of Chile across the Andes into Argentina. They defended that land from the Incan and Spanish empires, but in the 1880s, the Chilean and Argentine armies defeated them.

Following their defeat, the Chilean state granted Mapuche communities land titles that totaled 1.2 million acres – about one tenth of their former territory.

The Mapuche began demanding the return of their ancestral land following the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile with an iron fist from 1973 to 1990 and who mandated the division of their communal land. They’ve also fought projects that threatened the region’s natural resources, such as new roads and dams.

The Mapuche territory has been transformed during the past three decades when most of the region’s forests were cut and replaced by exotic pine and eucalyptus plantations to supply pulp, paper, and wood product industries.

Between them, Chile’s two biggest forestry companies – Forestal Arauco and Forestal Mininco – own approximately 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres): more than four times as much land as the Mapuche. Those companies have consequently become the target of sabotage by radical groups such as the Arauco Malleco Coordinating Committee, and some of their properties have been taken over by Mapuche communities.

Human rights organizations have criticized the Chilean government for permitting police brutality and for using the anti-terrorist law, which is below international standards. Mapuche groups have filed cases against the government with the Inter-American Court and have requested that UNICEF investigate violence against them.

Future battles

Mapuche tribes are quite independent and many Mapuche identify more with Chilean general society than their own ethnic groups, so there is not a united Mapuche movement as such. There are no indigenous members of congress, and Gustavo Quilaqueo, who founded the first Mapuche political party, Walimapuwen, didn’t get sufficient signatures to run as a candidate for Congress in the last elections.

Investor Advice

Before buying in Southern Chile get independent advice on whether the property in question is in an area of dispute. If it is then forget it.  The same advice goes for Argentina.  The areas affected are relatively small but watch around lakes and rivers.

Contact the Gateway to South America team to learn about the best investment opportunities in the region. The company is a benchmark for foreign investors wishing to invest in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, providing expert advice on property acquisition and disposal.

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