SANTIAGO — Tensions in the La Araucanía region reemerged. Six Mapuche communities sent a letter to the president saying that they would begin occupying territories as part of a “restitution process of ancestral lands.” In response, the government invoked the State Security Law.
The ongoing conflict between the government and Mapuche communities from southern Chile has escalated. This week, six Mapuche communities carried out a protest in Temuco — the region’s capital city — and delivered a letter for President Sebastián Piñera to the governor’s office in La Araucanía.
In the letter, the indigenous communities announced that they would begin a “process of occupation” of lands in the province of Malleco, especially in the cities of Victoria and Traiguén. Galvarino Reiman, spokesman for the Mapuche communities of Malleco, said in a press conference that they requested 13,000 ha of land from the government.
The communities that signed the letter are Antonio Aniñir, We Juan Maika, Toledo Cheguan Antipi 1, Meli Foli Wechekeche de Unión Temulemu, Juan Canuleo Pineleo 2, and Victorio Millán.
The explanation they gave in the letter is that the land they possess “is insufficient according to the growth of our population.” The communities referred to Article 19 of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, ratified by Chile in 2008, that requires that states provide “more land for these peoples when they do not have the area necessary for providing the essentials of a normal existence, or for any possible increase in their numbers.”
They said they would begin occupying land in Santa Ana, El Canelo, El Desengaño, El Maiteco, El Manzano, El esfuerzo, Don Tito, Magallanes, and Requén.
The Government’s Response
The first authority to respond was Congressman Miguel Mellado from La Araucanía. He told UAtv that he expected a response from the government explaining to the Mapuche people that what they are requesting “is impossible within the rule of law.” He also called upon the Prosecution Office to act because “these people are announcing a crime in advance. The crime of usurpation.”
The government then responded as Mellado predicted: they invoked the State Security Law against the people who had issued the letter. Interior Minister Víctor Pérez announced the decision in a press conference and said that “threatening is not legitimate in our country. Whoever threatens has to face what a democratic state has: courts to oversee their actions.”
Whether or not the occupations occur, Pérez said that the government’s legal complaint will still move forward against the authors of the threats. However, if the threats are carried out, the law will also allow those who signed to be held accountable as “direct authors of a completely illegal, arbitrary, illegitimate, and violent act.”
Mapuche Communities Double Down
Many in the political sector pointed to the different treatment Mapuche communities are receiving, compared with the truckers when they held a national strike for a week. The latter case even resulted in a constitutional accusation against Pérez for not invoking the law.
Congressperson for the Socialist Party, Emilia Nuyado, referred to the truckers’ strike and said that it is “easy to complain against communities for something that has not even happened yet, but it was not like that when the truckers blocked traffic and caused shortages in many regions.”
The six communities that signed the letter announcing the occupation released a statement after Pérez invoked the law, accusing the government of being discriminatory. “We won’t give up our territorial rights with your public threat. On the contrary, we will add more communities to this process until the Chilean state recognizes its committed acts, such as the confiscation of territory and the acts against humanity.”
Ingrid Conejeros, spokeswoman for the Mapuche communities, said in a press conference that Pérez’s announcement only exacerbated the conflict between the Mapuche nation and the state. “This government insists on criminalizing and persecuting communities that have legitimately stood up in their territorial claim.”
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant