October 21, 2014
A Mapuche delegation from the South of Chile visited Brussels on 13 and 14 October to raise awareness about the situation of the Mapuche community in Chile at the European institutions. While the press and the diplomatic world mostly hear the Chilean Government’s version, the two Mapuche ‘werken’ (representatives) wanted to share their perspective on the difficulties facing the indigenous Mapuche people with EU policymakers and politicians.
The delegation was composed of Mr Jose Catrilao, from the lof Yeupeko Catrileo in Vilcun and MrManuel Chocori from Panguipulli, representing the communities ‘in resistance’ in the South of Chile in general. They were accompanied by Ms Alina Rodenkirchen, Mapuche coordinator for the Society for Threatened Peoples in Cologne and of Mapuche origin herself.
In particular, they expressed concern over the fact that the Mapuche, as every other indigenous group, are not mentioned by the Constitution of the Republic of Chile and that in general the Chilean government does not recognise their identity as a people. Despite representing 8% of the population of Chile (over 1.2 million people), their claims are mostly ignored, and history books any time refer to the Mapuche as extinct. Also, the only official national language of Chile is Spanish and Mapundungun is given very limited consideration, also in education.
In addition, the delegation lamented the application of antiterrorist laws against the Mapuche, used by the Chilean authorities to allow longer detentions, anonymous witnesses and more severe sentences. They brought up several recent cases, among which the situation of a ‘Machi’, a charismatic spiritual leader of the community, who was recently sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. They mentioned that the current government, which took office in March, promised not to use the antiterrorism laws for internal political disturbances of this kind, but is in practice using another law for the same purpose: the law for internal security.
One of the recurring points highlighted by Mr Catrilao and Mr Chocori during their meetings with European policy- and decision makers was that the Mapuche are not against development and modern lifestyle, but want to be part of it in a responsible way and according to their history and tradition. They spoke about the importance of using renewable energies, inspired by their trip around Europe, and about the importance of organic agriculture.
Furthermore, they clarified to most interlocutors that the Mapuche people do not seek independence from Chile nor to be allowed to completely self-govern areas in which they are settled. Instead, they simply wish to be recognized as a people and to see their ancestral lands be given back to them.
The opportunity to raise these issues at the European institutions, which has committed to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law; including rights of persons belonging to minorities, both internally and around the world, was much appreciated by the delegation, and is hoped to serve as a springboard for further action for the Mapuche at the European level.