Southern governor begins tenure with apology to indigenous community

By Ivan Vargas
Published On : Fri, Mar 14th, 2014

Appointed Araucanía Governor Francisco Huenchumilla asked the Mapuche people for forgiveness for the government seizure of indigenous lands and oppression.

Southern governor begins tenure with apology to indigenous community

The new governor of La Araucanía [left] Francisco Huenchumilla, begins his tenure by apologizing to both the indigenous Mapuche community and European ‘settlers.’ Photo via Gobierno de la Araucanía

In an attempt to ease tensions between Mapuche communities, estate owners and the government, Araucanía’s new governor issued a public apology to the indigenous population for over a century of oppression, neglect and “theft” of their lands.

Christian Democrat (DC) Francisco Huenchumilla, himself of indigenous Mapuche descent, was appointed by President Michelle Bachelet to represent the Southern region. At a conference Wednesday, he outlined his guiding principles for governing the Araucanía, which has the country’s largest Mapuche population and is at the center of conflict between the government and sometimes hardline Mapuche activism.

“In my role as governor and as Huenchumilla Jaramillo, a representative of both worlds, I come to apologize to the Mapuche people for the theft of your lands by the state,” Huenchumilla said. “The state has a pending debt [with the Mapuche] and for more than 130 years it has implemented public policies that have been unable to pull this region out of poverty and its existence as one of the least developed regions.”

The governor also extended apologies to descendants of settlers — mainly from Northern Europe — who emigrated to the region decades ago and had “built their lives” there. Huenchumilla said they had been lured by state policy to an “inadequate” place at an “inopportune” time.

Huenchumilla continued by claiming that he and Bachelet represented a change in policy toward the region and the so-called Mapuche conflict.

“Nobody can perform miracles and I’m no different, but the course of this ship must change course — this is our aim,” Huenchumilla said. “The main issues at hand which correspond to the central government — lands, autonomy, political recognition and participation — will have in me a clear and decisive advocate.”

Governor Huenchumilla added that he would work to end violence in the region, saying that everyone should aim to create a “climate of respect and tolerance.”

As a Mapuche stronghold, the Araucanía has historically been plagued by violent conflict. During the European conquest of Chile, Spanish forces were unable to subdue the region’s Mapuche population, eventually establishing the banks of the Río Bío Bío as the border between Araucanía and Chile. It wasn’t until 1882 that an independent Chile invaded and conquered the region, 70 years after achieving independence from Spain.

Tensions remain to this day, with frequent land disputes and violence erupting between Mapuche activists and law enforcement, as well as property owners. In February, the conviction of an indigenous leader in the polarizing Luchsinger-Mackay arson and murder case, led to protests and accusations of retaliatory arson attacks by activists.

The governor’s comments came just two days after a report was presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) concerning the use of the anti-terrorism law against Mapuche activists in Chile.

HRC Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, who visited Chile in July 2013, presented the report, which characterized the ongoing conflicts in Araucanía and Bio Bío as “extremely volatile.” The document also expressed concern over the intensifying “frequency and gravity of violent confrontations” in the past three years.

Emmerson condemned Chile’s implementation of anti-terrorism laws, warning that abuse of the legislation could lead to increasing unrest in the region.

“Political and economic exclusion of the kind still experienced by the Mapuche people is a recognized cause of violent extremism,” the report reads. “The responsibility for addressing these issues rests squarely with the state. Since the restoration of democracy in Chile, no government of either political hue has treated this issue with the priority it deserves.”

In a post Thursday, socio-political blogger and journalist for La Tercera, Pedro Cayuqueo, praised the governor’s speech as an unprecedented acknowledgement of the Mapuche community’s struggle.

“Rarely have things been put so clearly. And never, as far as I can recall, by a government official. At least not in the last 40 years,” Cayuqueo wrote. “I don’t exaggerate when I say that, with his speech, Huenchumilla has won himself a place in history books.”

But Cayuqueo also recognized that the path the Araucanía governor has chosen won’t be a “bed of roses,” saying that only time will tell if Huenchumilla can turn his words into actions.

Even Jorge Luchsinger, son of the deceased Luchsinger-Mackay couple of the emblematic murder case that resulted in the conviction of Mapuche activist, Celestino Córdova, supported Huenchumilla’s words.

“[The speech] was positive, as long as it helps solve the problems,” Luchsinger said.

However, not everyone was inspired by the governor’s comments. In a La Tercera article published Thursday, Juana Calfunao, a Mapuche tribal leader from the Juan Pallalef community, displayed skepticism.

“It’s very difficult to believe the governor, because Michelle Bachelet’s previous administration persecuted us,” Calfunao said. “His Mapuche surname doesn’t assure us of anything.”

Calfunao was referring to Bachelet’s application of the anti-terrorism law during her last term. However, the president has publicly promised not to apply the law to cases of Mapuche activism this time around, calling her previous use of the law “an error.” Bachelet has said that existing common law is sufficient for dealing with such cases.

The governor concluded his address with a promise to his new constituency that he would implement an “open door policy” for all voices to be heard in the region. From Mapuche organizations, to large and small agricultural organizations, the governor said he would work to nurture an all-inclusive dialogue.

“We will open the doors of the governor’s office to all the Mapuche communities and their organizations, without exception,” Huenchumilla said.

Source: The Santiago Times

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