The Mapuche "Conflict"

By: Nadia Guamán

October 2, 2017

The Mapuche people are Chile’s most prominent indigenous group. The Mapuche are famous as the only group to successfully fight and halt the invasion of the Spaniards into their territory in the 1800s. “Mapuche” directly translates to "people of the earth," “mapu” meaning earth and “che” meaning people. The Mapuche person has utmost respect for the earth, nature, and for his or her community. Unfortunately, colonizers and the Chilean state have targeted these people for decades, seeking to use Mapuche land for capitalist ventures. Logging industries and the Chilean state have appropriated millions of acres of Mapuche land, leading to the deterioration of Mapuche culture, language, and livelihood.

In the face of these injustices, the Mapuche have united and frequently gather in marches, hunger strikes, and occupation of buildings in order to voice their sentiments. The Mapuche people are fighting for the restoration of their ancestral lands. Yet, the only title the Chilean government has given the Mapuche people is that of “terrorist.” As outlandish and harsh as such a term sounds, it the term most frequently used in cases regarding the Mapuche. The Chilean government frequently uses Pinochet-era anti-terrorist law in trials against the Mapuche. These laws allows for convictions based on anonymous witnesses, arrests without bail before trial, and the administration of higher penalties on crimes. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations have both condemned the Chilean government for utilizing the anti-terrorist law against the Mapuche people, yet the use of this law continues. 

Recent arrests of eight Mapuche leaders, who are being accused of setting fire to trucks in August as an act of “terrorism,” sparked various protests in Santiago. Among the arrested is Héctor Llaitul. Llaitul is leader of the Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), an organization devoted to the recovery of Mapuche territory. Arrests occurred on September 23,  and protests have been going on since then. The largest protest was on September 26 in Santiago’s Plaza Italia. The latest news reports connect the arrested leaders to possible arms trafficking in Argentina, though evidence is scarce. The Mapuche community expects these accusations, which merely result in the further unification of the Mapuche people. The Mapuche are resilient, strong, and smart. They have not and will not stand down in the face of aversion. My only hope is that the Mapuche people get the justice they deserve.

Earlier today, as I exited the philosophy and humanities building of the University of Chile, I saw students protesting in name of the arrested Mapuche leaders. As I stopped to observe the protesters, I began to think about how many people before them and how many in the future will continue to protest for the Mapuche people. I also began to question who exactly was on the side of Mapuches and who didn’t feel affected. Continuing my route on the metro and seeing other Chileans going on with their day unaffected made me realize that the grand majority of Chileans are unaware of the plight of the Mapuche. I believe in the power of numbers; the more Chileans are informed, the more allies the Mapuche have in their fight for recognition.

October 12 is known worldwide as a day to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ expedition to the Americas. But to many, such as the Mapuche people, this is a day to remember the lost land and people in the act of colonization. As this date approaches, I will continue thinking about how Chile can work to repair the damaged relationship it has with the Mapuche people. I acknowledge that there is a lot of good work being done in this society through programs that aim to revitalize the language of the Mapuche (Mapudungun), share the culture of the Mapuche, and expunge the stereotype of the “barbaric Indian.” However, there is much that still needs to be done for the Mapuche people to enjoy an equal stance in Chilean society. Today and tomorrow, I stand with the Mapuche people and hope to witness their liberation from the negative associations society attributes to them.

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The Mapuche "Conflict"