Mapuche International Link Delegation in Rome

A Letter to Pope Benedict the XVI

19th September 2007

Photo: Reynaldo Mariqueo and Nina Dean

On the announcement of the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's visit to Italy, a delegation from Mapuche International Link, headed by the General Secretary Reynaldo Mariqueo, recently travelled to Rome and handed over a letter addressed to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. The letter was endorsed by a number of European based Mapuche organisations and was intentended to draw to His Holiness attention, the human rights violations and fundamental freedoms of the Mapuche. The President's visit will take place on the 16th to 18th of October. The visit includes an audience with His Holiness and a meeting with the Italian business community.


Photo: Reynaldo Mariqueo and Nina Dean

Photo: Daniel Linehan, Nina Dean, Reynaldo and Atus Mariqueo

Demonstration by delegation of Mapuche International Link, held in front of the Vatican

Photo: from left to right Daniel Linehan, Nina Dean, Reynaldo and Atus Mariqueo, Photo by Señora Barbara Chambers

The MIL delegation also took part in a demonstration in Plazza Pio XII, in front of the Vatican on the 18th August. The demonstration was held in order to bring to international attention, the Mapuches' struggle for justice and freedom. In particular, it was held to highlight the criminalisation of Mapuche leaders, who fight, both peacefully and democratically, to regain their ancestral lands and for the freedom of all Mapuche political prisoners. Many members of the public came forward to discover the reason for the protest, and express their solidarity with the struggle of the Mapuche people and their political prisoners. (see the full letter below).

Mapuche International Link


His Holiness
Pope Benedict XVI
Vatican City

17 August 2007

Your Holiness:

We are Mapuches resident in the European Union who monitor the current situation of the Mapuche nation, an original people living in the south of the territories that are today occupied by the states of Chile and Argentina.

As Mapuches, practising the Christian faith, as well as our ancestral spirituality, we respectfully address Your Holiness on the occasion of the official visit of the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, and her announced interview with Your Holiness on 18th October, 2007. We appeal to Your Holiness to intercede with the President of Chile regarding the repression to which the Chilean state is systematically subjecting our people.

We the undersigned are members of the Mapuche nation, a nation that maintained its independence and sovereignty until the mid-1880s, the period when the republics of Chile and Argentina annexed our territory by force of arms. During the so-called "Pacification of Araucanía" in Chile and "Campaign of the Desert" in Argentina, thousands of Mapuches were brutally slaughtered, and further hundreds of thousands were displaced from their lands.

Historically the relationship between the Mapuche people and the Catholic Church has not been free from conflicts and difficulties. In this long path of coexistence, on more than one occasion the ecclesiastical institutions have opted to offer their moral support to the oppressors; such is the case of the support that was offered to the enterprise of colonisation of our nation. However, we recognise that during the whole colonial period, in all the events and negotiations - known as Parliaments - that took place between representatives of the Mapuche nation and the Spanish Crown, the Catholic Church always played the role of mediator. We therefore feel duty-bound to express our gratitude and tribute for the efforts of the missionaries of peace, which successfully contributed to shaping agreements of peace and of reciprocal respect for the sovereignty of both nations.

Over the centuries these treaties guaranteed and recognised the independence of our nation; on 28 occasions these treaties were signed between the Mapuche nation and the Spanish Crown. The history of the indigenous nations of North America has established the precedent that enables the Treaties signed to be considered as agreements sanctioned by International Law. The fact that these agreements have juridical legitimacy is thanks to the presence of the highest ecclesiastical authorities, who, in their role as mediators, conferred the dignity of Pacta Sum Servanda.

In the Parliament of Killen of 6th January 1641, the frontier between the Mapuche territory and the Spanish Empire was established, acknowledging the de jure recognition of our independence by the Spanish Crown. This historic landmark would not have been possible without the active participation of such missionaries as Luís de Valdivia and Gil de San Nicolás, who, at the end of the 16th Century, regarding the armed conflict, stated that "the 'Araucanians' were defending their territory and their freedom ".

In the so-called "Agreement of Santiago" of April 1774, the missionaries played an important role in sponsoring the establishment of a Mapuche diplomatic mission in Santiago , capital of the General Captaincy of Chile. This act confirmed the de jure recognition of our independence by the Spanish Crown.

The Mapuche authorities fulfilled their commitment to safeguard the security of the priests that performed their religious mission in our territory. One fact to be highlighted is the attitude of Toki Vilumilla, (Commander in Chief of the Mapuche military army) who, on 8th May 1723, on the recommencement of the war, ordered his subordinates to give protection to the priests, to avoid any loss of innocent life.

As a result of the military defeat by the Chilean and Argentinian military forces, the Mapuche people has had its territory and natural resources plundered, and suffered the imposition of unjust and illegal legislations. Since then the Mapuche people have been subjected to the most horrendous misery. At the time of the annexation of the Mapuche territory by the Republics of Chile and Argentina, many sons and daughters of Mapuches were kidnapped and sent away to be servants or slaves in the homes of winkas (non Mapuches). We regret the fact that the Catholic Church of the time offered itself as an instrument in the subjection of our people, and that it did no react in support of the conquered, the robbed and the humiliated.

In this period, at the end of the Campaign of the Desert, the boy Ceferino Namuncura moved to the capital of Argentina . His words to his father express the atmosphere of a period of defencelessness and injustice: "daddy, look how we are now after having been owners of this land! We have no protection. Why don't you take me to Buenos Aires to study? Among so many men there, there will be some of good heart who would wish to give me protection and so I will be able to study and be useful to my race". Your Holiness, we recognise the beatification of Ceferino Namuncura as a positive expression. His aspiration to be useful not only to his Mapuche people and to the faith that he embraced with so much devotion, but to the whole of humanity, has materialised.

We view the granting on 27th September 1904 in Rome of the medal of the rank of Prince by His Holiness Pope Pius X as a de facto recognition by the Vatican of the Mapuche nation. Ceferino Namuncura represents and symbolises the hereditary noble lineage in his role as a member of the family of the Toki (highest ancestral authority) of the Mapuche people, Juan Kalfukura.

His Holiness John Paul II, on 5th April 1987, during his visit to the Araucanían region urged Mapuches to "conserve the culture of their people with well founded pride: their traditions and customs, their language and their own values" and he added "When defending your identity, you not only exercise a right, but rather you perform a duty: the duty of transmitting your culture to the coming generations (.) with your well-known values: the love of the land, the unquenchable love of freedom, the unity of your families".

Your Holiness, we would call your attention to the fact that these words of encouragement by your predecessor have been ignored by the current Chilean authorities. Far from seeking a just settlement to the conflict due to the occupation of our territory, the Chilean Government uses its legal system as an instrument to criminalise the just demands of Mapuche community members to recover their territory, for justice, freedom and social welfare.

Even though Mapuche protest actions are peaceful and within the framework of their civil and political rights, the Chilean authorities continue to use repressive laws introduced by General Pinochet's Military Dictatorship. As a result, the violation of the human rights and the fundamental freedoms of the Mapuche people is a daily reality, a situation that has been condemned on repeated occasions by the world's human rights organisations.

At the present time, a large number of Mapuche leaders and traditional authorities, such as Lonko (Chief) Calfunao, her husband Antonio Cadin, and their children Waikilaf and Jorge, as well as her sister Luisa, are imprisoned for defending their rights. Today Lonko (Chief) Calfunao and her sister Luisa are on hunger strike in a desperate action as part of their demand for justice.

Your Holiness, we request your mediation with the Chilean authorities, so that they refrain from using the repression of the law courts and the police against the Mapuche nation, so that they recognise the treaties and observe the standards of international humanitarian law and the rights of peoples. It is essential for the Chilean State to proceed to recognise the existence of the indigenous peoples in its political Constitution, and for it to ratify Convention 169 of the ILO regarding indigenous and tribal peoples.

We request that the ministers of the Catholic Church intensify their efforts to contribute to the gaining of access by our people to the benefits of economic, social and cultural well-being that they have been denied since the occupation of their territory.

Sincerely Yours,

Reynaldo Mariqueo ( England ) Jorge Calbucura ( Sweden )
Carlos Contreras Painemal ( Germany ) Domingo Paine ( Sweden )
Miguel Utreras ( Norway ) Millaray Waikian ( Switzerland )

(translated from Spanish by Leslie Ray)

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