[Marxism] Mapuche struggle
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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