Mapuches, a nation in its diversity

Mapuches, a nation in its diversity

By Franck Gaudichaud

The elements of an indigenous conflict, their legitimate claims of identity, cultural, idiomatic and self-determination, are combined with the direct effects of the neoliberal model. In this conflict, the Chilean state appears clearly and once again on the side of the transnationals and not as a defender of the rights of the majority.

In various parts of southern Chile, the repression against the struggles of the Mapuche movement continues and has even worsened in recent months. Since the end of the dictatorship (1990), although there have been land returns thanks to the mobilization of this indigenous people [1], the major problems that affect them have not been resolved by successive Concertación governments, quite the contrary ... Many communities are running out of or with little land in their own historic territory, they lack the water that is used primarily in the large forest plantations, discrimination is very present throughout the country and in several places in the South the police repression is brutal , as denounced - among others - by Amnesty International or the UN Special Rapporteur for indigenous peoples.

The conflict is particularly acute in places where there have been collective “seizures” of land, which are recovered. State repression is violent, often with application of the Internal Security Law or even the Antiterrorist Law of the dictatorship. Just think of the most media cases such as Patricia Troncoso, Elena Varela or lately Hector Llaitul, a political prisoner of the Chilean “democracy”. On August 12, a 24-year-old Mapuche youth, Jaime Mendoza Collio, was assassinated by Carabineros in the "San Sebastián" farm. He was shot by a 9mm pistol after resisting the police eviction from the property.

After this spiral of violence, the elements of an indigenous conflict, their legitimate claims of identity, cultural, idiomatic and self-determination, with the direct effects of the neoliberal model that are exposed in this area are combined. Along with powerful landowners who occupy ancestral lands taken from the indigenous people, there are the huge forest plantations of the transnational companies that prey on the native forest and replace it with pine trees, eucalyptus, which deplete water and deteriorate the soil to produce cellulose and other products of export.

There are also the electric companies that build power plants and lay their transmission lines across the Mapuche lands or else they intend to install coal-fired thermoelectric plants polluting the environment. On the coast, salmon companies have taken over the sea through concessions, liquidating artisanal fishing and polluting the waters. In this conflict, the Chilean state appears clearly and once again on the side of the transnationals and not as a defender of the rights of the majority.

The question is: How to face this permanent criminalization of the Mapuche movement? And also: How to overcome the fragmentation of the communities, unify the Mapuche nation, taking into account its strong evolution and urbanization in recent decades? What to do with natural resources? Exploit them for the benefit of large landowners, transnational capital, or establish some type of sustainable economy that respects the life, lands, and collective traditions of the Mapuche people? At the end, it is about building a new political project to defend the right to self-determination, forge perspectives for a democratic plurinational state and, at the same time, debate the ways for an alternative development to neoliberal capitalism, open to the Mapuche and non-Mapuche in its creative diversity.

From Temuko and the Wallmapu (Mapuche Country), we have discussed this situation with Wladimir Painemal. In the 1990s, Wladimir was a young Mapuche leader and actively participated in the formation of the current student homes, community centers and self-managed centers. Along with Pedro Cayuqueo and other colleagues, he has been one of the founders of the Azkintuwe newspaper, of which he is currently deputy editor. This dynamic informative project develops a journalism from the Mapuche People and with a multicultural perspective, has "an editorial line based on democracy and the right of peoples to communication" and is also dedicated "to training communication issues and improving the access of indigenous communities and social organizations to the mass media ”.

- We have seen in recent weeks that the criminalization of the Mapuche movement continues, such as state repression. Can you tell us about this criminalization situation?

Before we start our conversation, I would like to place a few items on the table. The situation of the Mapuche people from the 1990s to the present has not presented important advances in terms of human development. Studies and reports from different organizations have shown that the levels of poverty, unemployment and discrimination show low levels in relation to the non-indigenous population. This is also the case for coverage in education. At the moment we are in a Home for Mapuche students, but they represent only 0.3% of the population of young Mapuche who manage to enter university. We could make a long list; discrimination in access to work, since most of them access the lowest paid jobs, the situation of discrimination against women, etc.

This context is the one that has triggered a process of permanent mobilization, which has its ups and downs, led by different organizations that have different ways and strategies to develop their demands. Some of them focus their strategy on the struggle of communities in rural areas that seek the recovery of historic territories that today are in the hands of large landowners, forestry companies and / or individuals. This strategy also suggests, in some cases, that the form of solution is not through institutional channels, but through the specific occupation of spaces. In response to this form of recovery, the Chilean government begins to implement a criminalization process that not only affected one organization in particular, but the entire Mapuche movement.

Years ago most of the leaders had their phones tapped, they and their defense lawyers were followed up; the State has spent huge resources to maintain state-of-the-art intelligence systems such as satellite services to monitor, among others. Some time ago, the region's police chief gave a decisive figure in his annual account: there would be more than 12 million dollars invested in the region just to protect the owners of farms that they see “threatened” by the communities that want to recover their territories. So it is no longer something that has to do with the public security policy of a democratic country. On the other hand, the communicational agenda has also been occupied and a strong stigmatization of the Mapuches in general has been generated, as something natural of who we are as Mapuche in general. This phenomenon is beyond our control over how we want to be seen as a society. By stating that we Mapuches are “dangerous”, the criminalization policy impacts the entire society.

- In Latin America there has been talk of "militarization" of indigenous territories in conflict: do you think this is a valid concept for the situation in southern Chile? We know that the Chilean State and other groups are present to defend foresters, large transnationals, farms.

It is true that it is a matter of concepts. The concrete thing is that the police in Chile have a body that they call “special forces” and that they act in certain circumstances, such as in the September 11 protests, large public demonstrations, for example. This special body in the region has an exclusive dedication to suppressing the Mapuche demand and an immense amount of resources allocated for it. In addition, in recent years they have been concentrating them in territorial spaces where there are conflicts between the owners of land or a forestry, with a Mapuche community. I don't know if this concentration can be called "militarization." For the moment, the military, the Army, remains in their barracks, they have not come out to repress communities. But yes, it has been interpreted that this special force has been militarizing itself and using more “efficient” material. For this reason, I believe that when one speaks of militarization, it is posed in terms of the concentration of heavily armed police in these territories and in particular in those that are in conflict.

These forces have been dedicated to operating in community territories, deploying a force disproportionate to what a community represents in terms of the number of children, adults and the elderly. In the communities there is no other irregular force or “parallel army”, there are no weapons of any kind, there is no situation that indicates that the police have to deploy that amount of resources and intelligence services. The State considers the mobilizations as a destabilizing phenomenon for entrepreneurs in the region, since it is assumed that investments leave the region with this type of conflict. Which is not true, because if the figures regarding economic growth or profits obtained by companies in the region are reviewed, they do not indicate a decrease at all. The forestry companies are there and they continue to generate profits. Moreover, in many of the cases where the lands have been in conflict, many of the landowners have bought the land above the commercial price, it has been overvalued. CONADI [2] today is paying up to four times the purchase price of these lands. Many of these farm owners win from this conflict.

- We know that there is a significant presence of foresters and landowners, in this context, what is the current situation at the level of the communities' territory? Has progress been made against these invasive actors?

Since the 1990s, from the mobilization process with its different strategies, the State has had to invest resources to buy land. Nowadays, between the direct purchase of land, the transfer of national assets, a public entity that manages State lands, an amount of land has been delivered that the government estimates at 500 thousand hectares. The problem is that in order not to show a weakness in the face of the mobilized communities, they are handed over to communities that have not generated mobilization processes, if not to those that have followed the “legal channels”, regardless of the fact that these communities have been waiting since 13 years ago for that purchase. There is also the variable that, when the community conflict is with a forestry company, there is neither sale nor return of land, since these companies do not sell, indeed, they have a policy that in 10 more years they must double the number of hectares planted. And the amount of land available is not being enough for this: today the only land they aspire to buy is community land. Therefore, these conflicts are generated by this opposition of the forestry companies in selling the lands acquired to private owners, obtained in turn from the historical usurpation.

On the other hand, the forestry company generates a series of problems, negative effects as an industry, such as water scarcity, environmental pollution and employment, since there is no work for the communities in these plantations. Before, the owner of the farm gave work to the community, hired people for agricultural tasks, temporary work, but today that is not happening. So it can be said that thanks to the mobilization there has been a return of land, however it has not been verified whether this return has led to an improvement in the living conditions of the communities, since in many cases the families receive 10 hectares overexploited by the previous owner, to which it must be added that there is no government policy for technical support. Now a question that remains open is what development possibilities do the people who received land have? And that raises not only the question of the responsibilities of the State, but also what the community intends to do with these lands, how to think about its own development, how we Mapuche think as a people our development.

I have the impression that fragmentation is still present. I believe that as long as there is no common political project there will be no possibilities for a greater process of unification. If, even in relation to the language, we still cannot reach an agreement on which alphabet to use, it is difficult for us to reach an agreement in other areas, for example, in the one you mentioned about economic development. Are we going to stay living in the subsistence economy that our grandparents had or are we going to work on an economic proposal for the entire Mapuche territory that is diversified, respectful of the environment, and sustainable? People need to eat every day and that must be answered. On the other hand, there is a real fact of demographic growth of our population that is generating a double effort of production on the part of the communities, therefore, a greater fatigue of the land. So how can we raise income levels so that that family that lives in a rural community can send their son to study and that the son can stay in the city if he wants to, for example.

I do not believe that land will be the only way out for us as a society, even more so if we consider the following data: 70% of the Mapuche population lives in urban areas. It seems to me that if Mapuche society wants to think as a nation, it has to do so considering the urban Mapuches who often live in a much more extreme situation of social precariousness.

- Is there a political reflection, debates and answers regarding these types of substantive questions?

The questions are posed, but there is a stagnation in the debate, especially with respect to those positions that deny other knowledge, that retreat into the "own". A minority suggests going back to the past, in a situation in which Mapuche society lived “happily”, when the “winkas” [3] were not there. I think that we are going to have to learn to live with others, I believe that the nation-building process is going to have to be done in the face of the other: “to say here we are but we also want you to be part of this process of construction, regardless of whether they are not Mapuche, they are welcome in this territory ”. But wanting to build a project in contrast to the others that we have next to us, even with those Mapuches who for one historical reason or another lost their culture, it seems to me that it is to transform the future of Mapuche society into a ghetto. In this essentialist image, the Mapuche is one who lives in a community, in nature, but what about those who live in urban areas, what alternatives do we think of for them? Nowadays, I do not think that Mapuche society can be looked at in only one way, it is a society like any other that has an urban reality, another rural one and in those two conditions there are situations of discrimination and that generate conflict.

Although in the field of what it is to imagine a nation, the land is always one of its bases, the point is in how we get out of this unique notion where the concept of nation is only in relation to the land and we encompass everything that exists in a territory, including its cities. On the other hand, we have to open ourselves to the world, and diversify economically, even make new proposals, such as ecotourism, because the land is not giving us enough. We were recently in a community in the mountain range that is suffering the impact of climate change. They do not even understand it as climate change, but if they know that for 10 years the mountain snows have been decreasing, there is less and less water and this has caused their livelihood, which is the pine nut, from which they feed and with which they barter or sell in the nearest town, it is increasingly scarce. This suggests that we must look for other forms of subsistence, but I also do not believe that the solution is to abandon all those places, which are very rich in biodiversity, since this leads to young people going out to look for work and only the old are left, producing a generational break. .

- You have been developing an informative project called Azkintuwe for years, a newspaper that exists on the Internet and that existed and will circulate again in paper format. Can you tell us what this project consists of, its informative vision?

Azkintuwe has been working since 2003 and not only Mapuche communicators converge at it, but also non-Mapuche communicators. For us, communication is not biased, it is not something only for the Mapuches, we want to communicate for everyone. Get the Mapuche out of here and transform him into news for the world. Obviously it has not been easy, it has cost us, we have had to learn about communication as we go along. We still have a long way to go, especially in the use of our language, the revitalization of the Mapuzugun, in the possibility of being able to reach our entire Wallmapu with the printed edition, among other challenges. But despite the difficulties, today we have coverage in Chile and Argentina, throughout the old Mapuche territory, which goes from Chubut and the Güaitecas Islands in Chiloé in the south, to Santiago and Buenos Aires in the north.

On the other hand, Azkintuwe is a communication window between the different Mapuche organizations. Unfortunately, the levels of internal communication in the Mapuche movement are very low and sometimes it even falls into disqualifications. So our editorial line is that if we are proposing that our society communicate, it must do so with proposals, with debate, and this implies not leaving room for disqualification. That was one of our challenges and I think we have been meeting it over the years, betting on informational pluralism and not being a transmission belt for one or another organization or sector, doing journalism and not public relations, in short. The bet, now, is to transform Azkintuwe into a door not only of the news of our society but also of the phenomena that the world is going through, such as the economic crisis, the struggles of the peoples, a number of situations of which the Mapuches we cannot marginalize ourselves.

But not for us as Azkintuwe to replace the social actors, but as a bridge so that our people can know different points of view. We do not intend to tell people where they have to go, nor to say "this is the proposal we have for Mapuche society", but rather to generate a debate in which there is a maturation process and that in this way people take their informed decisions. In that sense, our editorial position is clear, we are not going to make decisions for the actors, we are going to make all their struggles and proposals visible, but it is not an innocent exercise either, it has an intention. What is ours? tell people: "You live in Wallmapu and in this territory we seek that you can communicate, know what women, young people, rural people, urban people think, all the actors in the territory."

We hope in the future to diversify our format, that this dense information at times that we make available to readers, we bring it closer to the common of our people. For example, that the medium is useful for those who want to know the price of animals to sell them in a market, for those who want to exhibit their craft project, for those who are interested in local sports events, etc. We want to move towards that type of communication, perhaps not through Azkintuwe, which has a format and a style, but perhaps another more informative medium could emerge from that type of news. We understand that Azkintuwe in its format reaches many leaders, intellectuals, academics, students, university students, professionals, that is its target audience, but we also want to reach those people who today are not participating in organizations, who are not aware of news from things that are affecting them.

Therefore, that is where the challenge goes, and hopefully new Mapuche media will emerge. In a town that has 1 million or perhaps 1 and a half million inhabitants distributed between Chile and Argentina, the fact that there is only one Mapuche newspaper is a disappointment, we should have hundreds of different types of newspapers that reflect the interests of our people and the different views on what we are as a people. We are promoters of communication and that is why we always try to take Azkintuwe as an example to young people and people in general, so that they also dare to write and communicate.

Franck gaudichaud - TEMUKO, WALLMAPU - September 2009 - Franck Gaudichaud, a prominent French political scientist and one of the editors of the Rebelion portal, visited Wallmapu to delve into the struggle of the Mapuche people for their rights in southern Chile. He visited communities, met with leaders of organizations and toured part of a territory under commercial threat. In Temuko, he shared with members of Azkintuwe the challenges of journalism and alternative communication. This is an interview conducted by Gaudichaud with Wladimir Painemal, deputy director of Azkintuwe.


[1] According to the 2002 census, 4.6 percent of the Chilean population, almost 700,000 people, belong to various Amerindian ethnic groups, among which the Mapuche stands out, constituting 87.3 percent of these minorities. The Mapuche currently live in a territory shared between Chile and Argentina.

[2] National Corporation for Indigenous Development.

[3] "winkas" means "white" in Mapudungun.

[4] In Spanish "Azkintuwe" means "Mirador".

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