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The Mapuche and the Chilean media

Bristol, 11 June 2003

The media in Chile and Argentina continue to be mere tools used by the upper echelons of society which at various times have been responsible for guiding the fate of these countries. The media is a vehicle for spreading racial and cultural prejudices against the Mapuche people and is used by the authorities when they need to justify the assimilation policy which they have introduced against our people. The Wallmapu (Mapuche territory) has been occupied by Chile and Argentina for more than a century now. During this process of colonisation the media, together with the education system and the law courts, has been used by the institutions of both countries to make the Mapuche believe that their indigenous culture is inferior and that Chile and Argentina are unified countries whose citizens have one single national identity and one flag. In theory, we count as members of this national conglomerate. In practice however, we have no decision making power on matters that affect us, and we are discriminated against in all aspects of the social life of this country.

The racist, anti-Indigenous position of the media, especially of the El Mercurio group of newspapers, can be seen in their rejection of the claims made by the Mapuche people. It is also evident in the way they have criticised the limited, weak measures introduced in support of certain Mapuche communities by post-dictatorship governments. The Mercurio are invoking a policy of 'integration' which ultimately means assimilation. This is now out of date and out of touch with the current situation. They are constantly trying to stifle any voices and initiatives which seek to find a fair solution to the Mapuche conflict. Once again this anti-Mapuche attitude is expressed in the editorial of 29 April 2003 which bemoans the Government's Indigenous policy, which was introduced in 1990. They are particularly withering about the policy of President Aylwin's administration which aimed to return Mapuche land which had been seized during the Pinochet dictatorship, calling it "an Indigenous policy which is mistaken and unwise"(1). In its editorial of 28 April 2003 on the same subject, the paper states that the current government's strategy has not achieved anything because they have "a paternalistic approach towards the Mapuche community, on the one hand providing them with land, and on the other restricting their chances of selling it."(2). From this we can assume that the Mercurio believes that the solution to the so-called "Mapuche conflict" lies in the dispossession of their ancestral lands. This is in addition to their indirect attempts to persuade the government authorities of the need to set up appropriate legal mechanisms in order to make it easier to get hold of Mapuche lands.

The colonialist tactic of the Mercurio is nothing new - genocidal laws have been used time and again by the governing classes ever since the Mapuche territory was annexed to the Republic in 1883. The aim is quite simply to gain control of indigenous territory, undermine the basis of our national identity and weaken our traditional socio-political organisation. The practical consequence of implementing such a strategy has been that hundreds of thousands of Mapuche have moved to urban areas in search of better living conditions. With this it is hoped to divide the Mapuche movement in order to weaken its action as a united whole, as well as sowing the seeds of doubt about the level of commitment of the Mapuche in terms of getting back their rights as people and recovering their land. This is how the Chilean upper classes, speaking through the Mercurio, are trying to subject the Mapuche people to hunger, exile, isolation and marginalisation, hoping that these pre-columbian people will become extinct through the process of assimilation or as they call it "integration". Clearly for these racist elements nothing has changed: on the one hand they underestimate the Mapuche nation's capacity to fight and mobilize, which has been in evidence throughout our history. On the other hand they are unaware that as far as indigenous rights are concerned, the rules of the game have changed at an international level. They ignore the fact that to abuse the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people goes against specific international laws and that no government can evade responsibility or declare itself exempt from condemnation and sanctions.

Also interesting is the distorted angle used by the Chilean media to explain the development and effects of the indigenous conflict in Araucania. This seems to have too many similarities with the kind of propaganda used to justify the military occupation of Araucania (1862-83). A situation of chaos and anarchy was said to exist there because of the bandits, smugglers, rustlers and so on who were destroying the land to the south. This was territory that Chile did not control or possess by colonial legacy, but had declared as its own soon after their independence from Spain. During that period, the media, in response to the needs of those aiming to expand the new national state, took on the role of preparing Chilean public opinion psychologically for what was about to come. On 24 May 1859, the Mercurio newspaper in Valparaiso wrote: "today's Araucanian is as slow witted, as cunning, both ferocious and cowardly, ungrateful and vengeful, as his ancestors were in the time of Ercilla; he lives, eats and drinks alcohol as excessively as before; they have not learnt or invented anything since that time, except for domesticating horses, which has only served to develop and favour their savage customs." (3) According to them, an atmosphere of chaos existed in Araucania and to this they added a negative image of the "native" which degraded his human condition. This then allowed them to justify the extermination of the Mapuche and the seizure of their land.

According to the enemies of our nation, the current mess in Araucania is the result of both Mapuche euphoria over what they have achieved through campaigning and of the government's current policy of conceding to pressure. In addition to this, it is continually stated that foreigners are responsible for instigating the indigenous conflict and also that it is inspired by the struggle of other indigenous people. In its editorial of 18 May 2003, once again the Mercurio insists that the Mapuche conflict is "supported by national and foreign activists and outside organizations who, in some cases, encourage radicalisation not only as a means of lobbying for the demands of a minority but also to achieve territorial autonomy. They are using the Zapatistas from Mexico and the nationalist Basques as their role models."(4)

With these assumptions and their use of selective amnesia, the Mercurio is casting doubt on the attempts to make reparations, which are supported by some members of the current government. This refers in particular to those measures which involve giving back land. Their comments not only call into question the value of such measures, but also the ability of the Mapuche to use their own initiative to fight for their rights. This view, which they try to disseminate across national and international public opinion, in fact contradicts the Mapuche people's historic tradition of struggle with which we are all familiar. To imply that our cause - the defence or restitution of our land - is something new or copied from other people's experiences is simply ridiculous. El Mercurio conveniently forgets that there was once a border between the Chilean state and the Mapuche nation. This was established in 1641 with the treaty of Killen between the Spanish crown and the Mapuche nation. They forget that the Mapuche nation signed some 30 treaties with Spain and the Republics of Chile and Argentina which reaffirm this border. Also forgotten are our battles and military achievements as are our military heroes such as Kalfulikan, Leftraru, la Lonko Janequeo, Kilapan and Kalfukurra who fought against Spanish colonialism and later against Creole expansionism. And lastly the Mercurio forgets that the epic struggle of the Mapuche people was the expression of an unbreakable will to defend national sovereignty.

The manipulation of historic facts to justify the current repression.

The enemies of the Mapuche nation use the media to try to hide, under a blanket of amnesia, the simple fact that the Mapuche nation was independent long before the idea of those nations which today oppress us was even born. The notion of liberty, territory, self determination and freedom of choice were understood and practised by the Mapuche, who tenaciously fought back when they thought they might lose them; all this, hundreds of years before the UN adopted these concepts as behavioural norms between countries. The way the Mapuche identified with these values, the flagship of their struggle, strengthened their self awareness as a people, and forged their national unity. This went along with their feelings of belonging to the Wallmapu and fraternal solidarity between the communities situated on either side of the Andean mountain range. Another practice deeply valued by the Mapuche was participation, at both local and national levels and communities had wide ranging and active participation in decision making during any agreements and discussions which affected national sovereignty. This meant that sometimes there were thousands of Mapuche present as witnesses as they accompanied their elders during talks or events celebrating treaties with neighbouring countries.

This set of values, deeply engraved in the Mapuche psyche, is what allowed them to progress in their lives as an independent, free, sovereign nation. For this reason, it is ironic that Chilean ministers debate whether the Mapuche people are a distinct people and whether we should be recognised as such in the constitution. Be it for reasons of ignorance, racism, or jingoism Chilean legislators ignore the reality of an independent people and of a cohesive nationhood shown by the Mapuche throughout their history. Nevertheless, it is crystal clear for the Mapuche that with or without the recognition of the Chilean state the Mapuche nation exists and will do so in the future. All that remains for us to do is reunify and adapt our organisational structure to the current situation, rebuild the Wallmapu to overcome the economic crisis and all the problems which stem from the occupation of our territory. The desire and need to unite the Mapuche nation is, and has been repeatedly expressed by numerous Mapuche organisations and communities of Puelmapu (Argentina) and Ngulumapu (Chile). Putting the previously mentioned sovereign rights into practice, including the right to self-determination, which hundreds of thousands of Mapuche have died for, looks like the only alternative left, and the best response to those who today would wish to deny the identity and history of this ancient nation.

The truth that we the Mapuche know, and the winka (Creole) media seems to forget is that our ancient, ongoing struggle is still alive. As the problem stems from the annexation of the Wallmapu by the neighbouring republics, Chile and Argentina both started and are responsible for the conflict, and consequently they must be the ones to resolve it. What can also be read directly or between the lines in the Mercurio is that the enemies of the Mapuche are trying to distort our history, suggesting that the claims of the Mapuche people are a new phenomenon, hoping that they can persuade the public to take a hostile attitude towards their claims for justice. It would appear quite clear that this publicity onslaught by the Chilean press has achieved what was hoped for. This could possibly explain the apathy in global society (including political parties) to speak out in support of the basic demands of indigenous peoples. It also seems to have a negative influence on the level of commitment shown by the current government in terms of recognising the rights of indigenous peoples and implementing constructive policies which are aimed at reducing the problems affecting them to some degree. Such is the extent of this lack of governmental commitment that Chile is one of the few Latin American countries that refuses to recognise the existence of indigenous peoples in its political constitution. In spite of repeated promises to the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples of the UN, it has still not ratified Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. What can be seen from this media campaign against the Mapuche is an attempt to prevent justice being done and to neutralise any advance in governmental recognition of the rights of the Mapuche people.

The campaign to discredit the Mapuche.

In general terms it has to be recognised that the Mercurio and its 15 regional daily papers are instruments for those ultra-conservative individuals who criticise any struggle for an improvement in social conditions in the country. However, the Mapuche people's national struggle receives special treatment which should make Chilean democrats blush with shame. The press denies and distorts the political nature of the one hundred year struggle of the Mapuche for respect and the recovery of their rights. There is a permanent campaign to discredit the Lonkos (traditional authorities) and other Mapuche leaders, denying them their historic status and their contemporary role in Mapuche society, referring to them simply as "terrorists" or "common criminals" for the mere act of leading and fighting for their people. And as for Mapuche political prisoners, they are the most vilified. Even before being arrested by the Chilean security services, they are accused, judged and sentenced before national public opinion by the media. In addition to this the media does not respect the right of the accused to answer to a charge and the right to restitution for slander and libel does not appear to apply to Mapuche leaders. To the Winka (Creole) media it is logical to lie and to lie again "just in case". As well as distorting or simply hiding the facts, they keep elements from the reader which would allow him to form an objective and transparent opinion of the indigenous problem. To sum up, the role of the press is none other than to justify the destruction of the Mapuche nation by spreading stereotypes and negative images of indigenous people in general through mainstream society. The aim is to foster hostile reactions or complacent attitudes with regard to the legitimate demands of the Mapuche.

In addition to imparting biased and subjective information about the Mapuche (behaviour typical of the Mercurio group) they also adopt a very superficial stance when writing about land disputes between Mapuche communities and forestry companies. Despite the solid evidence and in the absence of solid arguments to defend the indefensible, the Mercurio seems to have chosen to misinform its readers or simply not to take the situation of our people seriously. This would lead us to believe that as far as the "indigenous question" is concerned, there is no such thing as investigative journalism for this media group. In general reports are simple in their analysis and superficial in terms of content, and almost always avoid mentioning the root of the conflict which stems back decades. As for the harsh reality that affects us, the media keep quiet, seemingly unaware of the state of dependence, marginalisation and poverty in which we find ourselves after the plundering of our natural resources.

There are numerous allegations of police brutality against Mapuche people that are never investigated. For example, people being arrested and insulted because of their ethnic origin, beaten and kicked in public during peaceful demonstrations, and tortured in detention centres. The catalogue of inhumane and degrading treatment is growing and being brought to the attention of the public. This treatment includes loss of sight, broken skulls and bones in various parts of the body, mothers losing their babies as a result of police brutality, traumatised children being held while their communities are razed to the ground. Not to mention Alex Lemun, the 17-year-old murdered by police last November, whose family are still waiting for justice to be done seven months later. These abuses of power by the police, the violations of human rights, racial discrimination and cultural intolerance, are suspiciously ignored by the media. Furthermore, to try to discredit the more active parts of the Mapuche movement and in a vain attempt to isolate our leaders from the rest of the population, the media plainly and simply lie. With personal attacks on the Lonkos and other Mapuche leaders, they maliciously distort their demands and also call them "radicals", "subversives" or "terrorists".

This is how the Chilean media tries to criminalise the Mapuche and non-Mapuche people who are simply demanding justice and freedom for our nation. As an illustration of our grievances with the press it is worth highlighting the barefaced and misleading show of "communication" which was supported by local businesses and authorities, that they kept up against the Lonkos Pichun and Norin, and Patricia Troncoso. These three people were held in preventative detention for 15 months without the charges against them being corroborated. This trial, which caught the attention of human rights organisations such as Amnesty International (who sent a delegation of observers to the Wallmapu and who recently included us in a report) affected a large number of Mapuche leaders. Perhaps Sandra Jelvez, the lawyer for the Lonko Pascual Pichun best sums up the way the Mapuche see the Chilean justice system. She states: "they assume one is guilty, until you prove your innocence."(5) This method of doing justice keeps a lot of Mapuche leaders behind bars, including Victor Ancalaf and José Huenchunao, whose only crime is to be active leaders of the Mapuche movement.

The Mapuche and the courts of justice - the case of the Lonko.

On this occasion the Mapuche were able to make sure their rights were respected, which is very unusual in the Chilean justice system. The Mapuche called the ruling "historic", and understandably so, as in general they always lose court cases. The president of the Consorcio Agricola del Sur believes the verdict is down to Amnesty International and other organisations in the court, whose presence "undoubtedly put pressure on the magistrates"(6). As was to be expected, the verdict caused surprise and indignation amongst the ruling classes in society whose position is usually so unassailable and led to them, including the constitutionalists, reacting with personal outcries against the verdict and the Mapuche. Once again hate blossomed on the front pages of Chilean newspapers. In particular were the declarations of a member of the Constitutional Tribunal, former Minister of Agriculture Juan Agustin Figueroa, published in the Mercurio on 14 April 2003. This high level civil servant, "owner" of the 1,800 hectare Nancahue estate in Araucania (therefore a man with a personal interest in the region) declared that the Mapuche are not farmers but alcoholics by tradition. Just like the Nazis in Europe today who deny there was ever a holocaust of the Jews, this Chilean lawyer casts doubt on the Mapuche genocide which occurred during the pacification of Araucania, because according to him there are many different versions about what actually happened. In order to protect himself from direct criticism, he quotes the words of Colonel Saavedra, who masterminded the invasion of the Wallmapu and swore that the war was won as a result of plying the Mapuche "more with alcohol than with gun-powder".

With these declarations, this Chilean lawyer helps to keep the incorrect version of historic events alive, and tries hard to perpetuate the racist and disrespectful view of the Mapuche which was originally created in order to trivialise the war crimes against their nation.

He is promoting the idea that the military defeat of the Mapuche was a result of their excessive use of alcohol rather than the superior military power of the Chilean and Argentinian armies. With this he is instigating racial discrimination by insinuating that the so-called "Araucanian pacification" was a war against alcoholics and so the Mapuche were too drunk to be capable of conducting a war effectively. He is laughing at the thousands of Mapuche who were brutally massacred by his hero Saavedra whose 'epic military achievement ', after all, means that Figueroa himself now enjoys the ownership of a ranch in Araucania, whose legal possession is disputed by the Mapuche.

This is not all for Figueroa who, during the Pinochet dictatorship strongly criticised the application of the Anti-terrorist Law against the Chileans, but now not only defends its application against the Mapuche but is also calling for further repressive measures. He stated " I believe that with regard to certain counties it should be possible to declare a state of siege and apply special measures of a politically repressive nature" (7). That is to say, he is asking for the application of legal tools such as the Law for the Internal Security of the State, also originally introduced during the military regime, which would give free rein to the police. Figueroa is currently in dispute with the Mapuche community Antonio Niripil de Temulemu over the theft of their land and these statements by him just go to show the kind of attitude which is typical of those who would like to consider themselves the owners of Araucania. These are the kind of people who govern us and also the people who are supposed to represent the Mapuche in the Chilean Parliament. They are also the ones who approve laws "to protect indigenous people" and they are the same people who accuse, judge and condemn the Mapuche leaders and have the right to decide the future of the Mapuche people.

During his time as Minister of Agriculture Figueroa took part in the discussions about the indigenous law, introduced under the Aylwin government. However, today he looks back on this and says : "Unfortunately, […] I didn't assign the necessary level of importance to the subject during our discussions of the indigenous law". "I stepped back from the situation and now reproach myself over this."(8). Figueroa's accusations against the Mapuche continue to grow, as he states that the "land which he has given them" has not been cultivated, has been rented out and despoiled, "turned into unproductive land". With regard to a solution to the indigenous conflict he says there is a need to, as he puts it, "recycle an important part of the Mapuche population." This would make us think that he perceived the Mapuche as mere objects who have completed their function and in order to be used again need to be recycled. Presumably through this curious analogy our friend Figueroa is suggesting that the Mapuche change their identity in order to blossom again transformed according to his own 'image and likeness' or that of people similar to him.

The territorial litigation between Figueroa and the community Antonio Niripil de Temulemu is the result of his carelessness because as a lawyer he should have made sure that what he was buying was not stolen because as he knows when something has been stolen there is no statute of law that says that it then belongs to the thief. The fairest thing in this case would be to recompense the Mapuche community and give back to them what by rights belongs to them. There is no excuse to sustain a case which has no viability, especially when you take into account the well-known practice of making new borders to encroach on Mapuche land or the fraudulent purchases of indigenous territory. These purchases were used by speculators to trick the Mapuche out of their ancestral lands, be it through the use of force or of certain 'legal' traps.

The situation of the Mapuche people is no different to that of the people of Palestine or Chechnya but nobody - with common sense - would say that the destiny of those peoples should be in the hands of Sharon or Putin. However, the Chilean government includes racist elements such as Figueroa, who openly calls for the implementation of policies leading to the ethnocide of the Mapuche. It is about time the United Nations and the international community intervene to put an end to the threat which hangs over the Mapuche nation.

Faced with this media attack, it comes as no surprise that we Mapuche see the Creole media as a vehicle through which the authorities oppress us. The media is called on to give an acceptable veneer to the fact that our culture is being undermined, our land stolen and our people repressed. Nowadays media coverage of the problems of the Mapuche is as contemptuous as it always been. In it, we see the same caricature as in the past, when during the "Pacification of Araucania" and the "Desert Campaigns", the governments of Chile and Argentina were urged to occupy the land of the Mapuche nation swiftly.

The professionalism of the media, in particular of the Mercurio group of papers, is seriously questioned and not only by the Mapuche and people interested in human rights and the environment. There are also a growing number of people from all sectors of Chilean society who are realising that through their racist bigotry the newspapers are failing in their commitment to distribute serious and responsible news in keeping with the moral and ethical principles which exist in a democracy. The situation is made even worse by the self-censorship of many journalists, who limit what they write through fear of not toeing the journalistic line, or the risk of being fired by their bosses who act like mafiosos and see freedom of expression as a threat to servility, nepotism and corruption.

The Mapuche International Link

The organisation "Mapuche International Link", its website www.mapuchenation.org and the Mapuche network "Mapulink" have all, at one time or another, been the target of attacks by certain racist and anti-Mapuche individuals who operate freely within the Creole media. These attacks seem to reflect the frustration of people who up until a few years ago declared themselves to be the undisputed experts on indigenous matters - the "interpreters" and "spokespeople" for our nation. They are the same people who have access to the mass media, which in turn has complete control over what is written, published or distributed about the indigenous world. Nowadays, however, thanks to information networks on the internet, and the development of alternative journalism or the "free" (albeit marginalised) press, the century-long silence which was forced upon us is being broken and with it the monopoly over information is being challenged.

It is important to establish that the information, accounts and reports which are distributed by the Mapulink network and are published on our website are a genuine reflection of the current situation faced by Mapuche organisations and urban and rural communities. For the first time these people have the opportunity to describe their truth as they see it. They can therefore communicate directly to national and international public opinion in their own words.

Reynaldo Mariqueo
Mapuche International Link
Red Mapuche Mapulink


  1. Editorial. Escalada de ocupaciones. El Mercurio. 29 April 2003

  2. Editorial. Nuevas aristas en conflicto Mapuche. El Mercurio. 28 April 2003

  3. Minutes of the First International Congress of Mapuche History.2003 Eigenverlag, Siegen, Germany. Page 101 Commemorative Edition on the Bicentenary of the Parlamento of Negrete 1803

  4. Editorial. Conexiones del rupturismo mapuche.18 May 2003

  5. Algol Magistrates give their final verdict today. Kolectivo Lientur. 9 April 2003

  6. Historic Ruling: Judges absolve the lonkos (chiefs) of Traiguen. Kolectivo Lientur 10 April 2003

  7. "Se invita a la justicia con mano propia" El Mercurio 14 April 2003

  8. "El reparto de tierras fue un error enorme" El Mercurio 9 June 2003

  9. Indigenous Law No.19.253. Promulgated on 5 October 1993

  10. Terrorismo cibernetico. El Mercurio 22 December 2002

Translated by Kitty McCarthy


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