Chile: Bachelet promises new Mapuche policy

Chilean president Michelle Bachelet announced a new policy for the country's indigenous communities on June 24, We Tripantu, the last day of the June 21-24 New Year celebrations observed by the Mapuche, the largest of the indigenous groups. The new policy includes the creation of an Indigenous Affairs Ministry; a Council of Indigenous Peoples to develop proposals and oversee negotiations; designated seats in Congress for indigenous groups; a commission to establish an official version of indigenous history acceptable to all sides; and a continuation of an existing program through which the government buys territory in south-central Araucanía region for transfer to Mapuche communities that claim it, with the goal of ending land disputes and occupations that have troubled the region in recent years.

"Almost 25 years and five presidencies have passed since we recovered our democracy and despite our effort we are still in debt to [Chile's] indigenous people," Bachelet said, referring to the period since the end of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. "Now is the time to have the courage to take new steps forward, not with an eye on the short term but aiming to achieve the progress that has long eluded our brothers and sisters from the indigenous communities."

Some Mapuche activists were not convinced by Bachelet's program. Aucán Huilcamán, who represents the Council of All Lands, an organization including Mapuche from both Chile and Argentina, dismissed the Council of Indigenous Peoples as "a kindergarten" and said the government's policy continued "colonialism and the domestication of the indigenous peoples." (Santiago Times, June 24; Reuters, June 24; Radio Bío Bío, Chile, June 24) In a statement released on June 15, a week before Bachelet's announcement, the militant Arauco Malleco Coordinating Committee (CAM) described the president's approach as "[o]n one hand echoing the pressures of the capitalist business class in the Mapuche zone, and on the other deepening the militarization and the repression against our communities." The CAM said it was "taking up with greater conviction its anti-capitalist struggle based on self-defense and territorial control until the Mapuche national liberation." (La Haine, Spain, June 15)

On June 19 Chile's ambassador to the international organizations based in Geneva, Marta Maurás, gave the United Nations Human Rights Council the Bachelet government's commitment to end the application of Chile's "antiterrorist" law to Mapuche activists. Cuba, Germany and the US had asked Chile to discontinue the use of the law, which gives the police and courts extraordinary powers in cases the government designates as terror-related. This was one of 185 recommendations the Human Rights Council has made to Chile; the country has accepted 180 of them. The law dates back to the military dictatorship, but all the governments since the restoration of democracy, including Bachelet's 2006-2010 administration, have used it against Mapuche activists struggling to reclaim indigenous lands. (El Nacional, Venezuela, June 19, from EFE)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 29.