The Chilean Senate on Sept. 15 unanimously approved a bill to reserve 17 of its 155 seats for indigenous peoples in the country's upcoming constitutional convention. The bill provides a fixed number of seats for representatives of designated indigenous communities in the country. The Mapuche, the largest indigenous group, are to have seven seats. Indigenous people constitute around 11.3% of Chile's total population of 19 million, and their under-representation in politics has contributed to social and economic inequalities. However, despite demands, the Senate did not reserve seats for Afro-descendants, another under-represented group in Chilean society.
Exactly one year after a mass demonstration brought more than a million people to the streets of Santiago to demand fundamental change amid a mass uprising, Chileans voted Oct. 25 to scrap the Pinochet-era constitution and for a constituent assembly to be formed to draft a new one. An overwhelming 80% voted for the drafting of a new constitution in the two-question referendum, with a similar proportion voting in favor of the new charter being drawn up by a body to be 100% elected by a popular vote rather than one made up by 50% of members of Congress. President Sebastian Piñera signed a law last year calling for the referendum in response to the protest movement then sweeping the country.
Chile's Mapuche indigenous people are holding emergency community meetings in their territory to discuss how to respond to a wave of racist attacks. The most serious incident occurred Aug. 1 in Curacautín, Araucanía region, where a group of Mapuche protesters were holding an occupation of the municipal building. The protest had been called in solidarity with Celestino Córdova, a Mapuche leader imprisoned in relation to a conflict over land rights, and now on hunger strike to demand his freedom. The protesters were set upon by a mob, who ejected them from the municipal building before beating them in the street and setting several of their vehicles on fire. The attackers used racist slurs and slogans such as "¡Querían terrorismo, acá tienen terrorismo!" (You wanted terrorism, now you have terrorism!). The Carabineros looked on but did not interfere, only acting afterwards to remove remnant protesters from the building. (Resumen, Concepción; BiobioChile.cl, BiobioChile.cl, Cooperativa, Santiago; Amnesty International)
Leaders of Chile's Mapuche indigenous people on Oct. 22 announced their support for the massive protests that have been sweeping the country for the past week, saying they will press their demands for local autonomy in their traditional territories. Aucán Huilcamánn of the Consejo de Todas las Tierras (Council of All Lands) made the declaration in the city of Temuco, Araucanía region, standing beside Marcelo Catrillanca—father of a young Mapuche man killed by the paramilitary Carabineros last year, an outrage that sparked local protests. Camilo Catrillanca was shot in the back last November while working his lands in the community of Temucuicui. He had been driving his tractor away from an outpost of the Carabineros' Special Police Operations Group (GOPE)—the same elite force that has been unleashed on protesters in Chile's cities over the past days. Four ex-members of the Carabineros have been arrested in the case. (Soy Chile, BiobioChile, The Guardian)
On March 24, the exiled Royal House of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia elected Prince Frederic Luz as its new monarch—claiming dominion over a large area of Chile in the name of the region's Mapuche indigenous inhabitants. Although now dispersed in Britain and France, the Royal House traces its origin to 1860, when Orélie de Tounens, an idealistic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed Chile’s Rio Biobío into Mapuche lands never colonized by either the Spanish empire or the Chilean state. The Biobío was recognized as the northern border of Mapuche territory under a 1641 treaty with the Spanish. De Tounens learned the local language, adopted Mapuche ways, and was recognized by their elders as King Antoine—ruling a territory that stretched to the southern tip of the continent. In 1862, he was captured by Chilean forces, convicted of sedition, and only spared execution due to his perceived insanity. He made several failed attempts to return to Patagonia and win international recognition for his now-exiled government, but died in poverty in 1878. By then, Chile and Argentina were launching military campaigns to "pacify" the Mapuche. Historians estimate the Mapuche population of southern Chile fell by 90% as a result of this "pacification."
Tens of thousands of Argentines held protests across the country Sept. 1, demanding answers one month after the disappearance of an indigenous rights activist. Demonstrators held photos of Santiago Maldonado, who was last seen when border police evicted a group of indigenous Mapuche from lands in the southern Patagonia region owned by Italian clothing company Benetton. In Buenos Aires, protesters converged on the Plaza de Mayo, iconic for its role in the struggle to demand justice for the "disappeared" under the military dictatorship. The Buenos Aires march ended in running street battles with the riot police.
Authorities in Argentina's Chubut province accused Mapuche indigenous activists of being "terrorists" after a clash with police at a protest encampment on usurped lands. Two Mapuche activists were wounded—one by a bullet—when provincial police and the Gendarmería were sent in to clear the camp, which had been dubbed "Pu Lof en Resistencia," on traditional Mapuche lands now held by the Italian company Benetton in Cushamen municipality. In the aftermath, Chubut Gov. Mario Das Neves called the organizers "a group of violent ones who do not respect the law, nor the Fatherland, nor the flag, and constantly attack anyone." His government minister, Pablo Durán, accused the organizers, known as Mapuche Ancestral Resistance (RAM), of being "terrorists," saying that the situation "has surpassed the limits of what we can tolerate." Local press ran speculation of RAM links to Colombia's FARC guerillas. (Perfil, Pagina12, Cronica, Jan. 12; Perfil, Jan. 8)
Members of Mapuche Ancestral Resistance in the pre-dawn hours of July 19 burned two excavator machines belonging to British business magnate Joe Lewis, that were being used to build a hydroelectric dam at El Bolsón, in Argentina's Río Negro province. The dam is planned for the headwaters of the Río Escondido, on Lewis' private property, and is being built in cooperation with Edenor electric company, of which Lewis is the biggest stock owner. The militants left leaflets headlined "Lewis Out of Patagonia," and listing their demands for the release of political prisoners and the eviction of oil, mining and hydroelectric companies from Mapuche traditional territories. Liberty was especially demanded for Facundo Jones Huala, who was arrested in May and is being held pending an extradition request by Chile, where he is wanted for "land usurpation." Mapuche territory is bisected by the Chile-Argentina border. (The Bubble, Buenos Aires, Clarín, Buenos Aires, July 19; Crónica, Chubut, June 29)