Mapuches: The Struggle Continues

The Mapuches are the only indigenous Latin Americans not conquered by the Spanish and – after decades of invasion, rout and retreat – the Conquistadores sign the treaty of Quillin in 1641 recognizing a Mapuche state to the south of the river Bio-Bio. The treaty is reaffirmed in 1803.

After independence, Chile rejects the territorial settlement. Following victory against Peru and Bolivia in the Pacific War in 1883, the Chilean army sweeps southwards incorporating the Mapuche territories into the Chilean state. To this day Chilean history books refer to this bloody conquest as the “pacification of the Araucania.”

Throughout the twentieth century Chile encourages “colonization” of the Araucania region by offering free land to European immigrants. The Mapuche territory shrinks from 10 million hectares in 1883 to under 500,000 today.

The neo-liberal regime imposed after the coup d’état staged by Augusto Pinochet in 1973, makes life even more difficult for the Mapuches. They have to deal with big lumber companies, mega hydroelectric power station projects and oil companies who, on top of invading the territories the Mapuches inherited from their ancestors, fabricate legislation that would render any claim void.

One such legal instrument is the anti-terrorist law passed under Augusto Pinochet, currently being used to try the 34 Mapuche leaders. These leaders are on hunger strike in an attempt to have their case transferred from a military court to a civil court.

It is absurd to label the Mapuches as terrorists. Throughout history, they have been abused by the system and stripped of their land. Their plight is a reminder that in Latin America, justice is like a snake: only the barefooted get bitten.

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