PANGUIPULLI – The violent incidents that have become commonplace in Chile’s Biobío, La Araucanía, and Los Ríos regions have multiple roots. The indigenous Mapuche communities in these areas are under siege by real estate developers, farmers, and lumber companies. Meanwhile, the state has not promulgated laws to protect the Mapuche’s ancestral lands.
Urban growth and the related demands for raw materials have pushed Mapuche communities off their lands. Some titles that were given to indigenous groups between 1880 and 1929, covering over 1.2 million acres, have become property of private owners. Real estate developers and lumber companies didn’t waste any time in cutting down millennial tree forests to build luxury properties and plant fast-growth trees, even though indigenous land is ostensibly protected by law – including its transfer and acquisition.
In addition, the indigenous consultation carried out in 2019 focused on opening the possibility for Mapuche communities to enter the land market by leasing or selling their plots, causing division among them.
The government’s approach to deal with violence has exacerbated the Mapuche conflict. In September 2020, amid arson attacks in Biobío region’s Arauco province, then Social Development Minister Karla Rubilar announced the creation of the Wallmapu Committee, led by President Sebastián Piñera, to find a long-term solution. However, progress has not been made. To the contrary, violence has escalated amid increasing militarization and relentless imposition of the state’s monopoly on violence.
Stolen Mapuche Lands
As real estate developers and forestry businesses threaten Mapuche territory, communities step up protests. In Panguipulli (Los Ríos region), the Lof Llankahue community disrupted traffic near Ñancul on Nov. 23, 2020 as part of attempts to reclaim its territory as a property developer built a housing complex and a road that blocked public access to Riñihue lake. The community also fiercely opposes Colbún’s hydroelectric plant. The same community was involved in a violent incident on Feb. 16 when one member, Emilia Milen Herrera, was killed in circumstances that are still under investigation. The Mapuche conflict also saw an escalation of violence in 2020, which resulted in a nationwide strike by truck drivers.
The Latin American Observatory for Environmental Conflicts said the abuse by real estate developers is damaging ecosystems that have been historically protected by the Mapuche.
Additionally, construction companies have often ignored archeological artifacts found in these sites. In February 2018, 12 metawe (pitchers) were found and hidden by a construction company as its bosses feared they could be prosecuted for not reporting the discovery, which would have led to a work stoppage. Inmobiliaria Ambienta, the developer in question, is headed by engineer Claudio Cordero, economist Paul Fontaine and TV personality Rafael Araneda; the project involves houses, a golf course, gym, artificial lagoons, and a helipad – and the cutting down of hundreds of native trees.
On Sep. 6, 2020 Mapuche groups built a barricade to block road traffic to Curiñanco, demanding forestry and property development companies leave their territory. In June 2020, Lafkenche communities along the Valdivian coast said they were threatened by developers whose real estate projects will impact access to drinking water.
Corte de ruta en Lafkenmapu / #curiñanko #lospellines costa de #Valdiviacl Comunidades exijen entre otras cosas, el retiro de Inmobiliarias y Forestales del Territorio Mapuche #fueraForestales #fueraInmobiliarias @LafkenMawida @MegafonoPopular @PiensaPrensa pic.twitter.com/YlyiNaMriy
— Felipe✴️Smides (@FelipeSmides) September 6, 2020
Not All Is Lost
The law has occasionally favored communities. On Dec. 24, 2020, the Valdivia appellate court overturned a decision by the Panguipulli tribunal, and real estate company Inmobiliaria Desarrollo Limitada had to restitute lands to the Juan Quintuman community, ruling that the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention protects the right of indigenous communities to their land.
In 2018, the Cañete court ordered forestry company Forestal Celco – property of the Angelini conglomerate, which owns energy company Copec, mining businesses, and is part of the Chilean oligarchy – to return lands to the Ignacio Huilipán indigenous community, after they produced their 1904 land grant for a 240-acre plot, which Forestal Celco illegally occupied and exploited, even surpassing lumber extraction limits.
Sometimes it takes years before lands are returned to their Mapuche owners, which in turn allows real estate and forestry businesses to further damage the environment that indigenous communities work so hard to preserve. Chile’s attempts to create a global image as a green country and free society ring hollow in this context, as the Mapuche conflict has not been fully addressed by the state.