Republican News · Thursday 18 January 2001

[An Phoblacht]

The Mapuche's silenced conflict

There are around 1 million Mapuche people living in Chile. This indigenous people managed to survive 500 years of colonialism with their culture and identity intact before successive Chilean governments took their lands away. In the late 1960s, the government of socialist president Salvador Allende returned to them some of their ancestral land, but that land was stolen again after Pinochet's bloody coup.

Nowadays, the Mapuche are still fighting for their ancestral territories against possibly one of the most powerful enemies they could have encountered: US logging companies.

ENRIQUE RUÍZ last year won the Chilean Youth Journalism prize with an article about the struggle of the Mapuche, which analyses how the economic interests of multinationals are affecting Mapuche daily life. He discussed the issue in a recent interview with An Phoblacht's SOLEDAD GALIANA.


Phoblacht: Who are the Mapuche and what is their fight?

Enrique Ruíz: This is a long-standing conflict. The Mapuche resisted Spanish colonialism and were never defeated by the Spanish. When the Spanish left Chile, their relationship with the new state government was very difficult.

Nowadays, at the beginning of the 21st century, they persist in their traditions, in their culture, in spite of all atrocities committed against them, first by the Spanish and later by the Chilean governments. The Mapuche owned nearly 10 million hectares of land, but at the end of the 19th century, successive Chilean governments initiated and continued a process of land reallocation, which saw Mapuche-owned land decreased to a minimum. Today, an average Mapuche family would own around 2.5 hectares, and the little wheat, potatoes, vegetables and fruits that they managed to produce are enough to keep them barely alive.

General Pinochet's coup and the consequent dictatorship was the last straw. In my article I mention that about 200 Mapuche were assassinated by Pinochet's government. When the former dictator was detained in London - ehere he faced extradition to Spain on genocide and torture charges - one of the Mapuche organisations, the Arauco-Malleco Movement, presented charges against Pinochet for his role on the killing and disappearance of those Mapuche. The case is now with the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

The Mapuche now live in extreme poverty. There are around 1 million of them, and 500,000 are living in the Chilean capital city, Santiago. You'll find them in the most miserable conditions and low-paid jobs. The rest are living in the south of the country, on the remains of their land, which makes it very difficult for them to keep their traditions.

Those Mapuche living in the city are trying to create their own national networks.

AP: You have mentioned one of the Mapuche organisations. How many are there and what is their relationship with the Chilean government?

There are around ten Mapuche organisations. Some of them would have a good relationship with the government because they feel that the best way forward is to negotiate. Others are more critical. The Arauco-Malleco Movement will not hold any type of dialogue with the government until there is a demilitarisation process in their areas.

The name Arauco-Malleco refers to two of the most important Mapuche areas. It is very recently created and they want to build a strong, well-rooted movement with a very young base. Their main aims are to win back their land rights and secure Mapuche self-determination.

AP What is the situation right now in the Mapuche territories?

ER: As I said before, the main issue is land rights. When the Chilean state was created, it took away some of the Mapuche traditional territories, but also gave some ownership titles to the Mapuche. Later on, the Chilean establishment ignored its own laws to give some of this land - legally owned by the Mapuche - to European migrants in exchange for European technology. Then Pinochet tried to literally eliminate the Mapuche's identity to give away their lands. Their lands are now mostly in the hands of US logging companies and French multinationals.

They want the government to return part of their traditional territories - 300,000 hectares - so they can live according to their traditions. Also I should point out that they are living in a militarised area, very similar to what you see in the north of Ireland. The Mapuche carry out land occupations and are confronted by a police force ready to use their arms and imprison their leaders. This is a long-standing silenced conflict.

Captions: The Mapuche at the beginning of the 20th century

Enrique Ruíz

Revamped School of the Americas

When US securocrats announced that by the end of year 2000 the infamous School of the Americas would be closing its doors, their press release failed to mention that on 17 January 2001, it would reopen as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation (WHISC).

The ``new'' School will be in the same location, at Ft. Benning, and operate with the same purpose - still applying military solutions to what are essentially non-military problems; still training Latin American soldiers in commando tactics, military intelligence, psychological operations and weaponry.

In response to intense public and Congressional pressure, the School of the Americas added human rights training to its curriculum. The 2001 Defence Authorisation Bill that brought about the revamp of the School introduced human rights as part of all its courses. But even courses with friendly names such as Peace Keeping Operations include techniques like setting up road blocks and other means of control that continue to be used against the people of Latin America to stifle dissent.

Wednesday, 17 January, was an international day of action against the School of the Americas, with pickets all over Europe and the US.

For more information, check the Web page of the group School of the Americas Watch -

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