Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Indigenous Displacement in Southern Chile

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Indigenous Displacement in Southern Chile

Article excerpt

IN THE DAWN OF JANUARY 4, 2013, Werner Luchsinger, 75, and his wife Vivianne Mackay, 69, a couple who farmed in the Araucan?a region of southern Chile, were burned alive inside their home. Mapuche communal landowners had set the house afire in an attempt to threaten the couple and force them to abandon their property. The arson attack marked a turning point in the so-called ?Chilean-Mapuche conflict.? The protests of the Mapuche indigenous people displaced from their ancestral lands-a struggle the indigenous people call anti-colonial and anti-capitalist-were now radicalizing. That same night, the Chilean intelligence service arrested the alleged arsonist, Celestino C?rdoba, the spiritual leader of the Mapuche community. Young indigenous activists faced escalating persecution by the police; the most well known are the murders of Alex Lem?n on November 12, 2002, and Mat?as Catrileo on January 3, 2008.

The conflict between the Mapuche people and the Chilean state goes back to the 19 th century with the so-called ?Pacification-Occupation-of the Araucan?a? (1883) through which the Chilean Army conquered the Mapuche territory, seizing 90% of the indigenous territory and displacing the Mapuches to reservations. After the military defeat, the Mapuches were left with only about a million acres out of the more than 12 million acres of their land. This forced displacement condemned the Mapuche people to live in poverty and socially on the margins. To the present day in the Araucan?a region, the Mapuche have the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence and illiteracy in Chile. The territories that were taken away from them now belong to lumber companies that have made huge profits for decades, and those profits do nothing to ease the economic and social conditions of the displaced Mapuche people. On the contrary, the activities of these lumber companies have caused irreparable damages to the local ecosystem, aggravating even more the marginality of the region?s indigenous families. At the same time, agricultural colonizers who benefited from the Mapuche?s loss of territory by taking over large swaths of farmland have contributed to the radicalization of the century-long conflict.

In his 2015 end-of-mission statement Philip Alston, then-UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, declared that indigenous rights are the ?Achilles? heel of Chile?s human rights record in 21st century? (http:// panorama.ridh.org/onu-los-derechosde-los-indigenas-son-el-talon-de-aquiles-de-chile/). This situation has led to almost daily armed conflict between Mapuche activists and the special police forces. The ?Luchsinger case,? nevertheless, stands out because the way in which the elderly couple perished touched an emotional nerve in the Chilean society, especially because the couple had close ties to elite circles in Santiago.

It was in this context that we (Crist?bal and Daniel), Chilean doctoral students living in San Francisco and Washington DC, decided to enter a UC Berkeley ?Big Idea? competition to create a project that would focus on reconciliation in a country divided in regards to its indigenous population. We imagined a program that would mitigate violence and eventually resolve the Chilean-Mapuche conflict through the fields of education, history and media. We were both convinced that the scarcity and poor quality of information in the media concerning the violence in the Araucanía were one of the principle causes of the conflict, especially because some owners of communications media also owned lumber firms in Mapuche territory. We firmly believed that the Chilean society should begin to educate itself interculturally to reach an understanding of the historical roots of the armed struggle of the indigenous people displaced by lumber companies and large farming estates.

The project brings a group of history teachers from elite private schools to experience Mapuche communities in conflict with the Chilean state. …

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