Mapuche conflict in Chile: a people not included in the constitution

I.In Chile, countless trucks have been standing still since Thursday. The truck drivers are threatening to continue the strike until Congress approves a series of laws that strengthen the security apparatus and the judiciary. The background to this is a series of attacks in the Araucanía region in southern Chile. Last week, strangers shot a truck there and injured the nine-year-old daughter of a truck driver. The case has caused consternation in Chile. President announced that he would bring the “terrorists” to justice. The laws demanded by truck drivers would give the police and the judiciary the tools to take tougher action. One of the laws bears the name of a truck driver who was the victim of an arson attack on his truck in February and died as a result. The law provides for arson attacks on vehicles to be raised to the same level as attacks on inhabited houses.

The left describes the laws as repressive and the strike as blackmail. The shots at the daughter of a truck driver are the culmination of a wave of attacks and road blockades in Araucanía that has been going on for weeks. Radical groups of the indigenous Mapuche people, whose original territory is centered in Araucanía, are behind the actions. Their attacks are usually directed against the logging and agricultural companies in the region. There have been repeated arson attacks on trucks, machines or buildings in the past. For many Mapuche, the affected companies are instruments of occupation of their territory.

Climate of racism

The conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean state is as old as the state itself. Up until the independence of Chile around two hundred years ago, the Mapuche had successfully fought against the Spaniards, who even recognized the sovereignty of their own Mapuche nation south of the Río Bío Bío had. After independence, Chile began conquering and colonizing the south. Land was given to European immigrants in the middle of the “Wallmapu”, as the Mapuche call their territory. The farms have become companies in the recent past. The production and processing of fruits, wood and salmon are now an important economic sector in Chile.

With the cultivation of the south, its militarization also increased. The Mapuche found themselves increasingly marginalized, and many migrated to the cities. Resistance grew among those who stayed in Araucanía in a climate of repression and racism. The Mapuche have always been considered a warlike people, but the vast majority reject violence. The perception of the Chileans, however, is shaped by the violent groups and their attacks. As the attacks increased in the late 1990s, the judiciary began to classify the acts of violence as terrorist attacks and to apply an anti-terror law from the dictatorship against the radical Mapuche groups. This made the entire people an enemy in the public eye. Numerous Mapuche leaders are serving long sentences.

The Chilean state and politics have not yet found an answer to the conflict. The repression does not do justice to the complexity of the problem and the developments in Chilean society. To date, Chile has not recognized the Mapuche as a people. The Chilean constitution does not provide for a coexistence of different ethnic groups in the sense of a “plurinational state” such as in Bolivia or Ecuador.


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