Mapuche and the Chilean State

The Mapuche indigenous people are a community native to the territories of Chile and Argentina. The Mapuche are the largest indigenous group within Chile, representing about 12% of its total population and mostly inhabit the Southern region. Yet the Mapuche, similar to indigenous groups all over the Americas, have faced conflict and repression by the state which now exists on their lands. The conflict between the Chilean government and the Mapuche is a longstanding one. For decades the indigenous group has been demanding self-determination and restoration of their ancestral lands, many of which are owned by farmers and logging companies. Since the first occupation of Mapuche territory at the end of the nineteenth century, the State of Chile has continuously encroached upon Mapuche territory. Under former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, land was taken and handed to wealthy Chileans. Dispute over land remains to this day. Following Chile’s return to democracy in 1990, promises were made to return the land back to the Mapuche but there has been minimal progress in fulfilling those promises. The Mapuche communities have been driven into pockets of relatively unproductive land in often isolated areas of the Araucanía and Biobío regions. As a result, renewed fighting has broken out in recent years, rounds of arson attacks erupted in Araucanía targeting private trucks traveling the Pan-American Highway, logging company machinery, and farmers.

In October 2021, outgoing Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera, declared a state of emergency over the conflict with the Mapuche and deployed troops to provinces such as Biobio and Araucania, which are territories under dispute. The state of emergency resulted in increased fighting, attacks by Chilean civilians on the Mapuche, and deaths. Currently, the Chilean constitution, written in 1980 while the country was under a dictatorship, does not recognize any of its indigenous peoples. This is unique to Chile as most other Latin American states do recognize and give certain degrees of autonomy to their indigenous groups. The lack of representation and voice in the country is one of the main factors that cause disputes to devolve into violence and allows the state to act with impunity. Still, there is hope that the election of the incoming President Gabriel Boric and the re-writing of Chile’s constitution will provide relief, greater autonomy, and equality for the Mapuche and peace in the country as a whole.

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Mapuche and the Chilean State: Conflict Summary.

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