Mapuche Current Situation

Chile and Argentina are now governed by democratically elected governments. Unfortunately, there is little recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples. Government policies and development projects have resulted in additional hardship and detriment to the Mapuche way of life. Recently, Chilean laws concerning land rights have come under scrutiny because of their apparent disregard for 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 more equitable and sustainable developments in which they can participate and by which they can benefit.

The Cultural, Educational and Judicial Situation of the Mapuche People in Chile

The existence of the Mapuche people is not recognised in the Chilean constitution nor does the Chilean state 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 educational systems are obliged to make a distinction between Mapuches and Chileans of European origin. Consequently, the ancestral territorial resources of the Mapuche people are continually ignored and are legally taken into private ownership. With regard to the educational system, this is orientated to promote cultural uniformity, which makes it very difficult for the Mapuche people to maintain their cultural identity. As a result, the Mapu-dugun (the Mapuche language) is quickly dying out.

Policies of integration according to the plans and wishes of the States have had disastrous effects on the life and development of the Mapuche people. The occupation of their territory, the destruction of their society and administrative organisation followed by diverse arbitrary and unjust measures, practiced in the past, continue today. The numerous initiatives of governmental and non-governmental organisations have proved ineffective in resolving the Mapuche problem. On the contrary, they have made it worse by their paternalistic nature, which keeps them in a constant state of dependency, instead of helping them to manage their own developmental process and control their own affairs.

Hydro-electric Dams.

The construction of 6 hydroelectric dams on the Bio-Bio river will cause some four thousand people to lose their homes and land, to say nothing of the damage to the ecosystem. One of these dams has already been completed and a second, Ralco, is awaiting planning permission. The proposed artificial lake at Ralco would cover an area of 3,467 hectares.

The Mapuche people most affected by the changes live in the district of Santa Barbara, specifically the Mapuche-Pehuenche community of Quepuca-Ralco and Ralco-lepoy of the Eighth region. The land that is to be lost under the waters of the dam, contains some very important archeological sites, these include ancient cemeteries, and the site of an historical settlement, Chenques.

The construction company have been trying to sweeten the local communities by offering false promises. Firstly by promising work for the Mapuche during the construction of these dams, although they offer no technical training - meaning that the Mapuche can easily be dismissed for lacking technical skills. Secondly, the company is offering the Mapuche alternative land elsewhere, and money as compensation, the land on offer is, however, infertile; and the money is no where near the value of the land the Mapuche stand to lose. The company also threatens that this offer will only be available for a short time after which the company will evict the Mapuche people anyway. The Mapuche people are therefore under pressure to accept the company’s unfair offer.

By-Pass in the Mapuche Communities.

Recently, a new problem has arisen: there are plans to construct a bypass in the ninth region. This will affect 28 Mapuche rural communities. 3,000 people are living in these settlements. This road will lead to the destruction of many homes and widespread felling of the forest. The road will also cut through religious sites and cemeteries.

For the Mapuche there will be an enormous socio cultural, economic and environmental upheaval.

The communities that will be effected by the construction of this bypass include Kefkewenu, Ninlilko, Truf truf, Konun wenu and Metrenko, amongst others.

Project Vampire in the Mapuche Huilliches.

The Mapuche Huilliches, on the 25th of April 1996, picketed outside the University of the North Medical School against the continuation of a research project which is taking place on the Detif Island, in the province of Chiloe, supervised by Doctor F. Rothhanner Geneticist, of the Biological Molecular Faculty.

Blood, hair and saliva, has been taken from Mapuche children, living on Detif Island, since 1994. The local parish priest and teachers of the island complained to the director of the local hospital about the health service which was taking blood from Mapuche children for unknown purposes and without knowledge nor permission from their parents.

Land Rights of the Mapuches Puelches. In Argentina, the Mapuche are facing the threat of confiscation of 110,000 hectares of their land in Pulmari, of the Alumine Region. This is due to the regional government ignoring the Alfonsin administration’s decision to award land rights to the local Mapuche in 1987, under national decree, No. 1410.

The regional government of Alumine does not respect the national decree. A Federal Judge has accused the Mapuche of encroachment on the land, which they consider to be rightfully their own. Some Communities have been threatened with eviction, while others 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. Their situation is mirrored throughout the Mapuche community, as in the Quinquen region, in Chile, where the Mapuche- Pehuenche lost their title to ownership of their ancestral land to private companies.

Loma de la Lata - Damage to the Mapuche and their Environment

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 Mapuche 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 fifty percent 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 explore further for gas in the area.


Enlace Mapuche Internacional