March 31, 2000


Ethnic Conflict in Chile: A Time Bomb

Special to La Prensa de San Diego
From Santiago, Chile
Cristian Eduardo Sandoval Cabezas.

Domingo Cayupil, 53 years old lives in a poorly built hut (dwelling made out of mud and dirt), located in Ercilla, ninth region of chile; more than 900 km to the south of Santiago. He's a mapuche. One of the few native indian people who still survive in this "jungle" of global integration and development of Chile. "We, the mapuches don't want to keep waiting any longer. The lands ( today legally occupied by big lumber companies) belonged to us and they will continue belonging to us. That's what we are fighting for," Cayupil says, as rain continues falling down in southern Chile.

The current scene of the conflict between mapuches and lumber companies is according to Chilean political analysts , a real "time bomb" for the new Socialist Goverment of Ricardo Lagos. Last year, more than twenty attacks —presumably perpetrated by the mapuches— checkmated both the social and economical stability in the woods of southern Chile. There, the mapuches —with hooded faces— urged the former president Eduardo Frei to put and end to the conflict and give more than a million of hectares of land back to them, which according to the mapuche they belonged to them due to historical facts.

This week an information drew the attenttion throughout the country —especially in sources close to the goverm-ent— this news announced the possible presence of Las Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), as well as other ethnics groups as El Movimiento de Campesinos sin Tierra de Brasil, El Mrta de Perú, El movimiento Indígena de Ecuador, y El Frente Zapatista de Liberación Nacional de México (EZLM), All this material was uncovered by a special goverment investigation police squad in the house of a mapuche citizen.

During a March (protest) with a big turnout last year in the southern city of Concepción (700 kilometers south from Santiago) a Zapatist member named "Carlos Cienfuegos" assured to a reporter that Chiapast's Zapatista movement is "interested" in creating a "link triangle" among the Zapatists, Mapuches (Chile) and human Rights Groups.

"The mapuches have a kind of organization which becomes interesting to analyse, since in Chiapas, the Zapatists has a similar fight structure. I think the Mapuches has a lot in common with Chiapatecas. Thus, if they are actually fighting for restoring their rights based in the ownership of the land, much more convenient it would be an Ethnic Latinamerican Union" stressed a Zapatist member while talking to this the same reporter in Concepción.

Ignacio Perez Walker, senator of Renovación Nacional affirms that there is a wide range of elements which assure that the Mapuches get support from the FARC." The parla-mentarian puts out that "there were people in connection with the mapuche group Coordinadora Arauco Malleco and el Consejo de Todas las Tierras, who have been abroad and had receivied the support and economical and strategic backing from such organitation.

In addition, Perez Walker criticizes the security scheme performed by the Chilean goverment in order to wind up the " indian assalts"... According to Perez Walker, the lack of effective plans can turn the south of Chile into a "second Chiapas." That's which, he adds that "the only way to save this plight is to impose a state of justice, the power of law and order.

Nevertheless, the mapuche people counter this accusation made by the rightist senator. The lider of Arauco- Malleco, coordinator Victor Ancalaf asserted that " there isn't any kind of relation with the FARC". Ancalaf explained that the only person who are working in the land recovery movement are the mapuche people. "Only mapuche people and no other groups at all," he added.

Berta Belmar, governor for the goverment of President Lagos in the zone of conflict, regreted the comments expressed by the Chilean senator, since these statements "don't bring about a climate of confidence which is key to solve the conflict," the governor stated.

President Lagos in his first address after being elected as head of state he spoke that "the work with the ethnic groups will be a top priority issue over the first months." "Governor Belmar will take over the conflict so she can engage in peace talks between mapuches and lumber companies and in turn sorting grievances out peace-fuly and definitively during this year," Lagos said.

However, the mapuches won't be disposed to wait longer. "if we should have to keep on fighting and stop logging, if we should have to block the roads, if we should have to protest out in the streets, we should just do it. Our tribe cannot keep waiting the help promised by the former president Eduardo Frei. I assure you that the mapuche people are ready for it," Nicolasa Quintrema, other mapuche leader spoke out.

A point worth mentioning in this conflict is that the chilean citizens side with the mapuches, (they are on their side). The huincas (white men) have showed all their support to their claims. "The mapuche people have rights to live on the land which belong to them. We don't justify violence, but they have to have their land back," adds Juan Ortíz Casanueva, professor of Universidad de Chile.

Presently, Chilean justice is dealing with more than a hundred of criminal lawsuits against the mapuche people. Nevertheless, much like a thriller novel, some statements have come up announcing "self- attacks" perpetrated by former workers working for such lumber companies involved in the conflict, with the only purpose to put the blame on the mapuche people.

The atmosphere is unsettled. Despite, so far there haven't been any disturbance using heavy armament, the environment within the zone under conflict is very frail, though. The mapuche liders are being prepared intellectually in Europe. Daily publications are being published showing the concern of ethnics groups interested in the Chilean Mapuche Conflict. It's a tricky situation," Francisco Garcias says. The mapuche people are ready to die if necessary. Meanwhile the goverment, is working thoroughly so the protests can be guided into useful, peaceful and fruitful channels as soon as posible. So far, a time bomb.

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