Santiago Times

The Mapuche Conflict

A News Digest Of The Mapuche Conflict, With APEC On The Horizon

(May 13, 2004, Ed. Note: In the following article, Kurt Perry, a freelance journalist working for the Mapuche International Link – MIL –, gives an update on what is one of the oldest issues in Chile: the conflict between authorities and the Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous people.

MIL is a British based international voluntary movement established in 1996 to campaign for social, economic, political and environmental justice for the indigenous Mapuche peoples of Chile and Argentina. The organization’s work, based on the support and dedication of its volunteers, has the main goal of helping bring about a just and peaceful resolution to the Mapuche conflict.)

UN human rights report presented in Geneva

A report presented last April to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, covering an official U.N. visit to Chile in July 2003, made extensive recommendations concerning the human rights of Mapuche communities in Chile.

According to the report presented in Geneva by Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, “The present situation of indigenous people in Chile is the outcome of a long history of marginalization, discrimination and exclusion, mostly linked to various oppressive forms of exploitation and plundering of their land and resources that date back to the sixteenth century and continue to this day.”

In his report, Stavenhagen concluded that:

Chile’s Congress should adopt the proposed constitutional reform in relation to indigenous matters as soon as possible;

International Labor Organization Convention No. 169, an international treaty guaranteeing the human rights of indigenous people, should be ratified promptly;

Protection of human rights should take precedence over private, commercial and economic interests in a review of legislation that might be in conflict with the Indigenous Peoples Act;

The government should take into account the proposals contained in the report by the Historical Truth Commission on needed legal, economic and cultural changes;

Necessary steps should be taken to set up a national human rights institution.

Stavenhagen also recommended that urgent attention should be paid to the prevention and resolution of land conflicts and, moreover, that the Land Fund should be expanded and made more flexible.

In a damning criticism of President Ricardo Lagos’ administration, and referring to the detention of Mapuche leaders under the Counter-Terrorism Act brought into force under the Pinochet military dictatorship, Stavenhagen said, “Under no circumstances should legitimate protest activities or social demands by indigenous organizations and communities be outlawed or penalized.”

He added that, “Charges for offences in other contexts (such as terrorist threat and criminal association) should not be applied to acts related to the social struggle for land and legitimate indigenous complaints.”

The Chilean media was also criticized. The report said that “during his visit, (to Chile) the Special Rapporteur observed how the media deal with the topic of past violations of human rights in Chile, but pay little attention to indigenous people’s human rights.”

Mapuche solidarity organizations throughout Chile and overseas broadly welcomed the findings of the Special Rapporteur and urged the Lagos government to implement the various changes highlighted by the report.

Testimony to the U.N. from family of Mapuche activist killed by Carabineros

In Geneva, on April 8, the father of Edmundo Alex Lemun Saavedra – the Mapuche activist shot and killed in November 2002 by a Carabinero officer – gave testimony to the sixtieth session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Edmundo Lemun Necule denounced the “extrajudicial execution” of his son and accused Chilean authorities of a cover-up, claiming the officer responsible for his son’s death had escaped punishment. He appealed to the international community to “participate in the search for a solution to the human rights problems of the indigenous peoples of Chile.”

Activists incensed by APEC meeting on ancestral Mapuche land

On April 20 Mapuche organizations based in Canada issued a press release condemning Chile’s decision by to host a meeting of trade ministers on ancestral Mapuche land.

Chile is hosting an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in June in Pucon and Villarica, Region IX, ahead of a leaders’ summit in November.

President Ricardo Lagos has reportedly said the meeting in June is to discuss the feasibility of linking the regional and bilateral free trade agreements and to help revitalize the stalled World Trade Organization talks on global trade.

Mapuche leaders are incensed because they believe the meeting is designed to benefit large multi-national corporations to the detriment of the environment, human rights and the struggle for respect and recognition of the social and cultural diversity of indigenous peoples. In recent years, several disputes between Mapuche communities and large multi-national corporations have resulted in unfavorable outcomes for the Mapuches.

According to Victor Gavilan, a member of the Mapuche Nation Support Committee in Calgary, “the history of Pucon and Villarica is a history of the plunder and encroachment of Mapuche ancestral territory. From the colonization, relocation and expulsion of Mapuche population of this area, it was possible to reproduce the infamous reservation system.”

Many of the countries participating in the June meeting have a history of human rights abuse, but the issue of human rights is not believed to feature on the agenda.

Benetton land dispute with Mapuche

It was reported on April 19 that Benetton, the Italian owned corporate giant, had brought a lawsuit against a Mapuche family in Patagonia, Argentina.

According to the report, Atilio Curiñanco and his wife Rosa Nahuelquir requested permission in early 2002 to start a family business on a seventeen-acre plot called Santa Rosa, nearby to Benetton owned properties. The family received verbal permission from the relevant authority, then moved in and started farming the land.

But just two months later, Benetton claimed the land for himself and began legal proceedings against the family. The family was subsequently evicted and their property and belongings were seized.

The property has since remained unoccupied as the Mapuche family seeks legal rights to the land. In recent years there have been several accusations against Benetton, the largest landowner in Argentina, claiming the company has forced several Mapuche communities from their ancestral lands.

By Kurt Perry (

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