Chile: Mapuche step up struggle for land and water
Indigenous communities in Arauco province in Chile's central Biobío region have announced plans for a march on Aug. 2 to protest a proposal before the National Congress to extend Forestry Decree 701 for another 20 years. Community residents, who belong to the Mapuche group, Chile's largest ethnicity, say the forestry laws have allowed timber companies to take over traditional Mapuche lands starting in 1974 under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The most important of these companies are Arauco (Celulosa Arauco y Constitución), largely owned by the Angelini family, and Forestal Mininco, controlled by the Matte family. According to Mapuche activists, there is little chance that the forestry proposal will be defeated, since many of the congressional candidates from Mapuche areas in the upcoming Nov. 17 elections are being financed by these two powerful families. (El Cuidadano, Chile, July 27)
Mapuche groups have been using militant protests and land occupations since the 1990s in their push to regain the territories they claim. On July 24 the Mapuche Territorial Alliance's blog announced a new series of land occupations that the group said the media were ignoring. The blog reported that various communities in Cautín province in the southern region of La Araucanía had taken possession of estates since the weekend of July 19 near Temuco, the regional capital, and in the area of the construction for a new Quepe airport. On July 24 the autonomous community of Temucuicui—which was subject to a violent police raid in July 2012—announced plans to occupy the La Romana and Montenegro estates and several nearby areas under the control of timber companies. (Alianza Territorial Mapuche blog, July 24)
Mapuche activists are also targeting salmon farming in Mapuche areas. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has suspended the importation of salmon produced in Chile by the Norwegian multinational Marine Harvest; on June 5 the US agency found traces of crystal violet, a fungicide with carcinogenic effects, in a batch of the company's salmon farmed in Chile. Economy, Development and Tourism Minister Félix de Vicente insisted on July 23 that this was “an isolated unique case.“ Marine Harvest facilities “have not used this product for a couple of years, therefore, it should not be a cause for concern,“ he said. But Mapuche activists want the government to investigate the extent to which crystal violet and other dangerous chemicals may have been used in the salmon farming operations and whether the chemicals have polluted water Mapuche farmers use for irrigation.
When Marine Harvest first started the farming in Lago Ranco, in Ranco province in Los Ríos region, local Mapuche communities blocked a road and the facility's entrance in an unsuccessful effort to stop the company. The Mapuche say that Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) required the Chilean government to hold a consultation with them before authorizing the salmon farming. (FIS, Fish Info & Services, July 23; Adital, Brazil, July 24)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 28.