Historic land transfer to indigenous groups in focal point of conflict

By Sam Edwards
Published On : Mon, Jun 30th, 2014

Araucanía governor insists sale of ancestral Mapuche should lower tensions but landowners claim police are failing to maintain peace in volatile region.

A group of Mapuches in a field in Temucuicui
After a decade-plus long land dispute the Mapuche community of Temucuicui takes control of ancestral territory near Ercilla, southern Chile. Photo via @ceppdi / Twitter

The southern Araucanía Region witnessed the culmination of a historic land battle last week as several highly disputed agricultural estates finally passed from the hands of a local landowner to the indigenous communities which claimed them as ancestral territory, marking the end of a frequently violent conflict which has run for more than a decade.

The sale of the Montenegro, La Romana and Nilontraro estates has been in the pipeline since at least January when owner the Urban family, citing escalating conflict and violence with local indigenous Mapuche communities, announced plans to sell to the National Indigenous Development Service (Conadi).

The total territory — estimated at around 500 square acres, according to local Mapuche representatives — was divided among around 30 families from the Temucuicui and Ignacio Queipul Millanao communities, both located near Ercilla in an area considered a focal point of tensions between indigenous activists and landowners.

According to local press, there have been more than 200 violent incidents or clashes related to the dispute since Mapuche communities began occupying the estates in the early 2000s — a tactic some activists claim is their only means to effectively regain ancestral territory.

Temucuicui leader Mijael Carbone said the process would have been much quicker and “less violent” had the government listened to their concerns and engaged in talks with Mapuche communities from the beginning.

“[Successive administrations] have never dared to tackle this issue correctly,” he told The Santiago Times. “The politicians have always thought they could solve the problem themselves without external input but we never agree [with their proposals].”

Following the announcement Araucanía Governor Francisco Huenchumilla, who has recently sparked controversy for his strongly worded support of land reform, said the sale should alleviate tensions in the region.

In turn, Carbone said Temucuicui and other organizations were ready to talk with authorities and landowners but insisted the problem went beyond this specific dispute pointing to environmental conflicts and the wider Mapuche movement’s push for greater political autonomy.

“It is essential to tackle the general problems and not simply the issue of land,” he went on. “We want to be completely clear, the government has been occupying our land for around 130 years already. Ever since we have been living in poverty and suffering through the denigration of our rights.”

For Felipe Romero, executive director of the Association for Victims of Rural Violence (AVVRU), however, Conadi risks incentivizing land occupation and violent direct action against farmers engaged in disputes with Mapuche communities.

Romero told The Santiago Times that petitions to Conadi to purchase land on the part of Mapuche communities often take many years to be finalized and the prospect of accelerating the process through agitation risks exacerbating tensions in the region further.

“We cannot buy land for violent communities,” he summarized, claiming that there has been a recent escalation in violent incidents in the region which has left farmers feeling intimidated and isolated.

“People are very afraid, they are arming themselves and trying to defend themselves because the police are effectively incapable of halting the violence in the region,” Romero said.

On July 2 Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo will appear before Congress for a formal grilling on the security situation in the Araucanía Region as part of an interpellation brought against him by the right-leaning Alianza coalition.

Source: The Santiago Times

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