A new political and economic deal for the mapuche people of chile

Garces-Voisenat, Juan-Pedro (2018). 'A new political and economic deal for the Mapuche people of Chile' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The Mapuche people, which have inhabited the southern regions of Chile and Argentina for centuries, much before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, are up in arms against the modern states of Chile and Argentina, demanding a full vindication of their rights as the original inhabitants of these lands, and the full restitution of these lands, which they consider sacred. In the case of the Mapuche that live in Chile, they waged a fierce war that lasted for three centuries against the invaders, and were finally forced into signing ignominious peace treaties in which they surrendered their territories to the State of Chile. This happened in the 19th century, during the period that has been euphemistically termed “the Pacification of the Araucania”. In fact, the Araucania (or Mapuche) region was never pacified, but crushed under the enormous power of the Chilean Army. The insurrectional movements continued to operate, seeking the opportunities to manifest their discontent, especially to the eyes of the rest of the world. This trend has become more active towards the end of the last century and in the first two decades of the present one. Violence has erupted with enormous virulence in recent years, when indigenous activists have burned buildings of settlers and logging companies, cut roads and burned vehicles passing through them. The government of Chile has denounced an “unacceptable wave of terrorism” and demanded that these groups “respect the rule of law”, but the violence has only been getting more intense, as the government unveils from time to time remedial “development plans” for the indigenous communities, which are considered completely insufficient by those same groups. A mix of strong repression and ever more obsequious development plans has been all that the State of Chile can offer to try to quell the unrest and respond to the aspirations of the aboriginal communities. These ones do not accept the rule of law of the State of Chile, as they see it as being imposed on them by territorial invaders. As the conflict progresses, there seems to be no end in sight. The State of Chile does not want to engage in direct negotiation with the Mapuche people, as they wouldn’t want to hurt the interests of powerful entrepreneurial groups that have invested vast amounts of capital in the exploitation of the natural resources of the Araucania region. This resource exploitation angers the indigenous communities even more, which see how their ancestral lands are being spoiled of their riches before their very eyes.

What this paper proposes is to reach an agreement along the lines of the one celebrated in the 20th century between the Maori peoples of New Zealand and the government of that nation. Under such a settlement, the Mapuche would become full members of civil society, with a proper vindication of their rights as an ethnic group which was in the territory for centuries before the arrival of the Conquistadors. They would establish a parliament of their own, and they would have reserved quotas of representation in the National Congress of Chile. They would be given decision power over the economic and political status quo of their lands (Araucania). Certainly this would be a very long process, and would require much negotiation (between the State of Chile and the Mapuche, as equals). But it would be a process that would totally satisfy the aspirations of the Mapuche people. In the meantime, a gradual transfer of lands should be scheduled, with the State of Chile buying the lands from their current private owners. There should be a stop, with immediate effect, of all exploitation of natural resources in those lands (especially the introduction of exotic tree species and their logging), except for the benefit of the Mapuche inhabitants and observing current environmental regulations of the State of Chile.

Under this new legal ordering, the Chilean nation would become a pluri-cultural one, in which the Mapuche people and other aboriginal ethnic groups are recognized as component members of full right, as are currently the mestizos and the descendants of European settlers. The rule of law would have to be reformed to reflect this new reality, with a legal framework being born from the consensus between the State of Chile and all the participating aboriginal ethnic groups. This new legal framework should be enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Chile.

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