The Mapuche people – in their Mapudungun original language People of the Land – make up about 10% of Chile’s 18 million inhabitants. They are mainly living in the south-central region of the country, including the regions of La Araucania, BioBio, and Los Lagos. In this area, a conflict between the indigenous people and the Chilean government has been rumbling on four years, marked by sporadic outburst of violence. The conflict is rooted in Pinochet’s military regime (1973-1990), under which the Mapuche communities repeatedly experienced infringements of their historical and cultural rights. They were expropriated of their land and moved to less fertile areas in the southern regions of the country. In 1984, to keep under control their protest in response to these deprivations, Pinochet enacted a Terrorism Act which labelled their protest as acts of terrorism, thus allowing increased penalties and condemnation on the basis of anonymous testimony.
The burdens of this period are to be found most notably in these areas: first, until today the government following the regime refused to suspend the terrorist terminology, hence limiting the Mapuche’s right of assembly, as well as their freedom of opinion and expression. Second, the Mapuche are denied legal recognition as indigenous peoples, preventing them to resort to the protection of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). Third, the lands previously owned by the Mapuche have not been restituted, nor have their former owners received fair and equitable compensation for the incurred economic losses. Some form of indemnity would be intensely needed as the population of La Araucania, BioBio and Los Lagos are the poorest in Chile in terms of both income poverty and extreme income poverty.
Current Situation and Threats
The very close relation of Mapuche people with the land is an integral part of their identity reflected in each and every aspect of their lives. This is due to their agricultural activities being the main source of nutrition and income.
Lately, environmental concerns have become increasingly pressing with the main issues being deforestation, hydropower and mining activities, as well as litter and water pollution. This notwithstanding, as more extensive projects affecting the Mapuche territory are being planned, the population fears additional infringements of their cultural identity and a further deterioration of the economic situation of the area.
Mapuche claims for legal recognition, the restitution of ancestral lands, and the suspension of the Terrorism Act have not been silenced; rather, they have recently raised international attention at the International Conference on The Observance of The Mapuche Treaties Concluded with the Chilean State held in May 2015 in The Hague, the Netherlands.