[Marxism] Mapuche struggle

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 12 10:02:48 MDT 2004


NY Times, August 11, 2004
Mapuche Indians in Chile Struggle to Take Back Forests
By LARRY ROHTER

TRAIGUÉN, Chile - Before the conquistadors arrived, and even for 
centuries afterward, the lush, verdant forests of southern Chile 
belonged to the Mapuche people. Today, though, tree farms stretch in all 
directions here, property of timber companies that supply lumber to the 
United States, Japan and Europe.

But now the Mapuches, complaining of false land titles and damage to the 
environment and their traditional way of life, are struggling to take 
back the land they say is still theirs. As their confrontation with 
corporate interests has grown more violent, Chile's nominally Socialist 
government has sought to blunt the indigenous movement by invoking a 
modified version of an antiterrorist law that dates from the 
dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, 1973 to 1990.

Despite international protests, 18 Mapuche leaders are scheduled to go 
on trial soon, accused under a statute that prohibits "generating fear 
among sectors of the population." The charges stem from a series of 
incidents during the past seven years in which groups of Mapuches have 
burned forests or farmhouses or destroyed forestry equipment and trucks.

"Clearly, this is a conflict in which some fairly serious crimes have 
been committed," said Sebastian Brett, a representative of Human Rights 
Watch in Chile. "But that does not mean you can call the people involved 
terrorists. These are crimes, not against human life or liberty, but 
basically against property, and they stem from a wide sense of grievance 
among the Mapuches that they have illegally been deprived of their lands."

To many Mapuches, the current dispute is merely the continuation of a 
conflict that has existed since the arrival of the conquistadors in the 
16th century. Retreating south of the Bío-Bío River, they succeeded not 
only in fending off Spanish control but also in having their 
independence formally recognized in treaties, and were only incorporated 
into the Chilean state in the 1880's as the result of a series of 
violent military expeditions.

After that, in a conscious imitation of the American method of dealing 
with indigenous peoples, Chile put the Mapuches onto reservations so 
that German, Italian and Swiss colonists could settle in the region. But 
by the 1920's, policies had changed, and the Mapuches lost title to all 
but a tiny fragment of their ancestral lands through procedures they now 
describe as illegal.

"From the moment the Chilean state annexed Mapuche territory, and used 
violence to do so, the rule of law has never existed south of the 
Bío-Bío," said Aucán Huilcamán, a leader of the Council of All Lands, a 
Mapuche group based in the city of Temuco, south of here. "The state 
refuses to recognize that we are a people with rights that were in force 
even before Chile existed as a nation and which remain in force today."

During the past decade, "the Mapuches have seen this country's economy 
growing rapidly" as the result of free market policies that have led to 
an export boom, said José Bengoa, Chile's leading historian of the 
Mapuche, who account for one million of Chile's 15 million people. "But 
they are themselves in a state of misery, with an awareness of their 
situation that drives them to desperation and exasperation."

Though Japanese and Swiss interests are active here in the region that 
the Mapuches call "Araucanía," both of the main forestry companies are 
Chilean-owned. On land the Mapuches claim is theirs, the firms have 
planted hundreds of thousands of acres with Monterey pine and eucalyptus 
trees, species that are not native to the region and that consume large 
amounts of water and fertilizer.

"Many Mapuche communities have risen up and said, 'We don't want any 
more tree farms here,' '' said Alfredo Seguel, a leader of a group of 
young Mapuche professionals called Konapewman. "Productive fields have 
been turned over to a monoculture that hurts other activities, helps 
destroy the land, employs very few people and pays low wages."

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