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Conference on Non-violence and Conflict: Conditions for Effective Peaceful Change

Tallin, Estonia, 15-19 July 1997

Mr. Chairperson, Ladies and Gentleman,

First of all, on behalf of my delegation, I would like to express our appreciation to the International Secretariat of UNPO for inviting us to take part in this important international conference on conflict prevention.

In the years after 1541 the Mapuche nation resisted foreign invasion and for 350 years or so our people managed to retain much of their territorial integrity. With the intention of maintaining peace, the Mapuche signed a number of "peace treaties" but these were duly broken by the co-signatories. As a consequence, during the last two decades of the nineteenth century the Mapuche lost control of their land. Since then the so-called "peace" under the terms of the Chilean and Argentinean states, has been nothing other than violence.

Once Mapuche land had been secured the victorious Chilean and Argentinean armies sought revenge in which a "scorched earth" policy was used against the Mapuche people, particularly in Argentina. They proceeded to split Mapuche families and distribute members between white people to be used as servants or for other domestic activities, virtually as slaves. Later, in 1902, under British arbitration the Chilean-Argentinean border was fixed which had the effect of partitioning Mapuche territory and dividing further Mapuche families.

Mr. Chairperson, the Mapuche people are not recognized by the Chilean constitution, making us technically a non-existent nation. Furthermore, the Chilean state does not subscribe to international laws that "promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples", such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169. This means that neither the legal nor the educational systems are obliged to make distinctions between Mapuches and Chileans of European origin, although recently the Chilean government has promised to introduce multi-cultural and biligual education but no firm actions have yet been taken. Our inalienable right to exist as a different people with our own unique cultural identity, therefore, is still in jeopardy.

The systematic dispossession and exploitation of our remaining land and resources continues today, as in the past, condemning our people to poverty and the sad reality of forced migration in order to survive.

The Chilean government's imposition of the legal and educational system is designed to enforce cultural uniformity which denies us the use of our language, customs, and way of life. This must be rejected today as an unacceptable practice.

Today, the Mapuche people are suffering the violence of having to leave their land in the name of the "common good", "development", industralisation and privatization. Governmental policies and development projects have been pursued which have further eroded the Mapuche way of life. Also, because of Non-governmental organisationsí paternalistic nature, things have been made worse by keeping dispossessed people in a constant state of dependency, rather than helping indigenous organisations to plan and manage their own development and to control their own affairs, which in the end holds the key to success by ensuring the survival and rights of our people for the future.

In Chile, for example, in the Bio-Bio region, the construction of 6 hydroelectric dams is under way and is threatening thousands of people with the loss of their homes and land, to say nothing of the damage to the environment. One of the dams has already been completed and a second one -Ralco- has just been given the go-ahead. A new indigenous peoplesí law designed to protect the land - under which development should not be possible without the agreement of the local communities - has been ignored in the first stages of this damís planning. Those that are most affected are the Mapuche-Pehuenche community of Quepuca-Ralco and Ralco-Lepoy who live in the district of Santa Barbara in the Eighth region. Chief Jose Antolin Curriao of the local Quepuca Ralco community has written to the President of Chile expressing their wish to continue living on their ancestral lands. He has written, "We will never accept expulsion from the land on which we live, land which our ancestors left to us and which we intend to leave to our children". This letter was one of many written by Mapuche organisations and communities, none of which have had a reply. The land to be lost under the waters of the dam contains some very important archeological sites including ancient cemeteries and the site of an historical settlement, Chenques. The Chilean electricity company Endesa tried to sweeten and, at the same time, blackmail these poor and vulnerable communities with false promises, such as employment, but these jobs require qualifications that most Mapuche lack; and alternative settlements, but of course the land is less fertile. These promises will only be carried out if the Mapuche agree to sign the contracts beforehand. If, however, they do not they will lose everything.

With the implementation of new mega-development projects in indigenous territory, the current Chilean government is violating its own laws by allowing these powerful companies to take advantage of the Mapuche people. It has to be stated that the Mapuche people are not against development but have very little legal representation on their behalf in order to achieve a settlement which will ensure a more equitable and sustainable development in which they can participate and by which they can benefit.

A new problem has recently arisen in the Ninth Region, where there are plans to construct a bypass. This road will indirectly affect 28 rural Mapuche communities, numbering 3,000 people, and directly affect 13 others. This road will lead to the destruction of many homes and the felling of many trees; and it will also cut through religious sites and cemeteries. For the Mapuche this bypass will cause enormous socio-cultural, economic and environmental upheaval, affecting communities such as Kefkewenu, —inkilko, Truf-Truf, Konun-wenu Kollawe and Metrenko.

In Pulmari, in the Alumine region of Argentina, the Mapuche are facing the threat of confiscation of 110,000 hectares of their land. This confiscation will be in breach of the 1987 decision of the Alfonsin administration (under national decree 1410) to award land rights to the local Mapuche communities. The regional government refused in 1996 to honour the decision and has revoked it. Argentina is not a signatory of Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation of 1989, in which Article 14 specifies the right of ownership and possession by indigenous peoples of their traditional land, although the government has adopted it. A Federal Judge has accused the Mapuche at Pulmari of encroachment on the land, which they consider theirs by ancestral right. Some communities have been threatened with eviction, and other are under surveillance by the authorities with restraining orders placed on active members of the communities. Six communities in this region, Currimil, Salazar, Aigo, Norquinco, Puel and Catalan are claiming full recognition of their title to the land.

In the region of Loma de la Lata, situated in the province of Neuquen, in Argentina, 14 Mapuche families live in the community of Painemil. This area is rich in oil and gas, and the Painemil community is surrounded by all the infra-structure associated with oil production, managed by YPF (Yacimientos Petrolificos Fiscales). In 1994 the Mapuches denounced YPF for pollution and environmental damage caused by oil and gas production. They also complained to the authorities about YPF and the damage. No action was taken. After the Mapuches complained of ill-health, a medical team conducted research in October and November of last year. After blood and urine samples were taken, the results were kept hidden from the people until March 1997 when it was revealed that 50% of the Mapuches were suffering from the effects of high mercury and lead levels. This accounted for their symptoms, and it was widely reported in the media that the Mapuches were suffering from, amongst other things, brain-damage, sterility, arthritis, cancers, and damage to the immune system.

In addition to this, the company officials have threatened the chief Maximino Paynemil with imprisonment for not signing a document giving permission for the company to further explore for gas in that area.

This shows, once again, the close relationships that exist between powerful companies and national governments, both of which show little or no regard for the rights and aspirations of indigenous peoples whose lands and resources, such as those of the Mapuches, could and must ensure their enhanced existence and development. This can only be achieved through an understanding and recognition of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples; and only on this basis can mutually beneficial, peaceful change be achieved.

Thank you,

Reynaldo Mariqueo
International Co-ordinator
Mapuche Inter-regional Council

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