From the London Independent newspaper a report on the continued persecution of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, this time in Chile:
“Jaime Huenchullan, 35, lives in a wooden shack on a plot of land outside the rural town’s limits. He grows his own vegetables in a small orchard and milks his sheep every morning at first light. Yet despite the bucolic scene, Mr Huenchullan is a protagonist in the South American nation’s longest-running and most acrimonious social conflict, pitting activists from the Mapuche indigenous population, to which he belongs, against the Chilean state.
On paper, the land where he lives – part of the autonomous Temucuicui community, according to the sign at the property’s entrance – belongs to Rene Urban. Mr Huenchullan, along with his wife, Griselda, and their two young children, has been occupying the land since March as part of an ancestral-land-rights claim. The set-up is basic; there is no running water or bathroom. “The colonial settlers can say that this territory legally belongs to them,” says Mr Huenchullan, a burly figure with shiny black hair tied in a ponytail. “But this land belongs to the Temucuicui community for historical and ancestral reasons.”
The dispute has its roots in the so-called “pacification” of the Araucania region, where Ercilla is based, which began in 1861 when the territory was incorporated into the Chilean state. Faced with the might of the army, the Mapuche people lost most of its land.
Chile fails to recognise ancestral land claims. Instead, it acknowledges legal paperwork from several decades later when the Mapuche population’s land had already been reduced. Successive governments have clamped down on activists campaigning for indigenous land rights.
Most controversially, an anti-terrorist law with its roots in Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship has been used to pursue Mapuche leaders through the courts – a move criticised by one of the UN’s top lawyers in July this year. The last three Mapuche leader deaths have all been in clashes with the police, while human rights groups condemn the effect armed raids have on Mapuche communities’ young children.
Conadi (the National Corporation for Indigenous Development) is the sole body charged with resolving the Mapuche land dispute and is based in Araucania’s capital, Temuco. When The Independent visited, neither the national nor regional director are available for interviews and a follow-up email goes unanswered.
According to a study by Santiago’s Central University in August, 63 per cent of Chileans believe that the Mapuche people should have their own territory. Yet Chile’s political class looks unlikely to cede to this demand.”