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From clore@columbia-center.org Mon Feb 26 06:43:39 2001
Date: Sat, 24 Feb 2001 22:56:47 -0600 (CST)
Organization: The Soylent Green Party
From: Clore Daniel C <clore@columbia-center.org>
Subject: [smygo] Repressed Chilean Tribe Bounces Back with a Vengeance
Article: 115637
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Repressed Chilean Tribe Bounces Back with a Vengeance

By Kevn G. Hall, San Jose Mercury News,
Sunday 18 February 2001

SANTIAGO, Chile -- During Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship a few decades ago, Esmelinda Pinda, an indigenous Mapuche native of Chile, went by the Spanish name Mar(acu)a, cut off her long braids, wore makeup and tried to get lost in the crowd.

Indigenous leaders were branded leftists and Pinochet's forces brutally repressed native populations in order to intimidate them, Pinda recalled in a recent interview.

Pinda, 70, now heads a Santiago-based Mapuche rights association, and she's fighting back. We have been negated as a people, she said. We are not just a population; we have a different way of speaking, a different way of thinking.

Seeking official recognition and return of their ancestral lands, the Mapuches have taken to squatting on disputed farms and timberlands, setting them afire and occasionally beating owners or overseers. Last year, these actions destroyed commercial timber worth millions of dollars and caused scores of injuries, arrests and at least one death.

Police in central Chilean cities such as Temuco and Ercilla, surrounded by what once was Mapuche land, expect more and harsher violence this year. So does President Ricardo Lagos, who reportedly was warned last month by Manuel Ugarte, head of the national police, that landowners are likely to form vigilante groups to protect themselves from further Mapuche attacks.

There will be violence, I have no doubt. They will threaten the government and the opposition, Gustavo Alessandri, a conservative congressman, said in an interview with the Mercury News. This will be a long year with the cauldron boiling on high.

While big in Chile, the story of the Mapuches, the nation's biggest indigenous group -- about 1.4 million in a nation of 15 million -- is little known outside it. The Mapuches lack a celebrity leader such as the charismatic, masked Subcomandante Marcos, who speaks for indigenous people in the Mexican state of Chiapas, or Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchú, an advocate for native Mayans in Guatemala.

But their issues are much like those of other indigenous peoples: recognition as a distinct people with special land and water rights, greater autonomy and appropriate schooling taught in their language. They contend, like other indigenous peoples, that they suffered from colonialist genocide and unjust seizures of land.

Once the dominant hunter-gatherer people in central and southern Chile and Argentina, the Mapuches proved fierce enough to repel Inca assaults from the north and centuries of Spanish attacks. The Chilean army finally defeated them in 1881, seized most of their land, gave large plots to European colonists and thereby sowed the seeds of the land dispute that persists today. The poorest of the poor, their Spanish and schooling weak, Mapuches mostly live in cities now.

Chile's socialist President Salvador Allende sought to give the Mapuches autonomy and land restitution in the early 1970s. But when Pinochet toppled Allende in a bloody U.S.-supported coup Sept. 11, 1973, he almost immediately reversed the return of native lands. In the late 1970s, he imposed on the Mapuches a system of formal land titling that deprived many of them of their communal farmlands. At least 300 Mapuches were among the 3,197 victims who were named in an official government report as missing or murdered during Pinochet's 17-year rule.

In some cases, the land was bought from individual Mapuches at the expense of the community. In others, Mapuches were driven off their land, were swindled out of it or simply abandoned it and moved to cities. In their place grew large Pinochet-subsidized commercial forests of pine, eucalyptus and other fast-growing trees.

Mapuche anger these days is partly fueled by frustrated expectations of Lagos.

The president promised in June to establish a Historical Truth Commission to examine past injustices against Chile's native peoples, but the panel did not form last year. His pledge to turn over by 2002 an additional 200 square miles to the 1,200 that now belong to the Mapuches is coming due.

Mapuche leaders responded in November by walking out on a conference on racism, sponsored by the United Nations in Santiago, just as Lagos began to address the conferees.

Weeks later, police arrested 40 Mapuches after a plantation in Chile's interior was occupied and its owner beaten. If Chile's land barons organize against the Mapuches and hire forces to repel them, the situation will look a lot like the one in Mexico's state of Chiapas -- a conflict in its seventh year.

To avert violence, the state must acknowledge its historical debt and join with the Mapuches to right past wrongs, said Edgardo Leinlaf, a Mapuche who heads the quasi-governmental National Indigenous Development Corp., known as Conadi.

Time is short, added Francisco Huenchumilla, Chile's only Mapuche congressman.

I think this year will see a deadline for results from the government. If they don't get it, we will likely see new confrontations, he predicted.

Conservative lawmaker Alessandri, who has represented a largely Mapuche district in Santiago since 1961, sputtered at the thought. This is pure and simple demagoguery. They have always been recognized, he said.

He warned that ethnic favoritism is bad for Chile and said that most of his Mapuche constituents want their children to learn English to have real job opportunities.

Almost across the board, the dozens of Mapuche organizations want Chile's education system to teach more about the indigenous culture and offer bilingual education. Only one country in South America, Paraguay, has complete bilingual education programs in Spanish and the native tongue Guarani.

Half the Mapuche population is thought to live in Santiago or other cities, making their struggle a diverse one and consensus among varied organizations difficult. Some groups want native lands returned; others want subsidies for the handicraft industry and something akin to affirmative action in public education for native peoples.

We want schools in the Andean highlands, and that indigenous children have free access to universities, said Laura Contreras, an Aymara leader of the association Intitatan Wawanaka, or Children of the Great Sun. Aymaras live in the region where northern Chile, southern Peru and western Bolivia meet.

However, with Chileans deeply divided over the attempted prosecution of the aging Pinochet on charges of human-rights violations during his rule and the nation coping with nagging high unemployment, university rector Juan Bengoa sees little interest among average Chileans in granting special treatment to the Mapuches and other native groups.

I don't think there is a consensus in society to recognize native Chileans, said Bengoa, head of the Academy of Christian Humanism University in Santiago. I think there will still be a long process of debate ahead in Chile.