Deepening Democracy in Chile
Chile's Mapuche Nation, with nearly a million members, is becoming a central protagonist of the new Chilean political and cultural panorama. Since the beginning of the 1990s and with the return of democracy, Mapuche organizations have emphasized the recuperation of usurped lands, socio-territorial reconstruction and the recovery of their collective rights. The Chilean state has been slow to react in an appropriate manner. The 1993 indigenous law recognizes the existence of cultural pluralism in Chile, but the Chilean state has not granted constitutional recognition to the Mapuche nation nor ratified relevant international treaties. The creation of the National Corporation for Indigenous Development looks after indigenous interests, but indigenous participation in social policymaking is minimal. Despite anti-poverty programs, the Mapuche continue being the poorest of the poor. In a recent report about the historical truth regarding relationships between the indigenous nations and the Chilean state, the commission of legal experts and social scientists failed to take into account Mapuche’s own perceptions of their relationship with the Wingka (non-Mapuche Chileans) and with a state that used violence and subterfuge to conquer them at the end of the last century. In the last ten years, about 500,000 acres were returned to rural Mapuche communities. However, the serious problem of invasions of Mapuche territory by lumber companies has not been resolved. Megaprojects such as dams and highways continue to destroy the environment and to produce disastrous social and economic effects on the indigenous communities. The Chilean state cites its dialogues with Mapuche nation representatives, but it continues to persecute, repress and incarcerate many of the Mapuche militants, using the global rhetoric of anti-terrorism. In spite of this increasingly dark panorama of the indigenous nations of Chile, I decided to tell a story with a happier ending. I made this decision for three reasons: First, because the case which I relate tends to demonstrate that a pluri-national or a multicultural state is built above all on the respect of basic human rights. Second, because this same case shows the increased negotiation capacity of the Mapuche organizations, particularly since the reconstruction process in the “neotraditional” territorities. Third, the Mapuche activists cited in this issue of ReVista directly tackle the dark side of the conflict between the Chilean state, the Mapuche nation and the large multinational corporations
BREAKING THROUGH THE RETAINING WALL: A DREAM COME TRUE
Mapuche community members in the Coi Coi valley enthusiastically broke through the retaining wall parallel to the fence separating indigenous land from the Durán estate in Chile’s coastal zone. Constructed a little after the devastating 1960 tsunami flooded the coastal lands of the now deceased Domingo Durán, the imposing retaining wall seeks to prevent further flooding. But by preventing the waters from running their natural course towards the Moncul river, this construction flooded more than 27 acres belonging to the Mapuche-Lafkenche community of the Lobería sector of Pilolcura. Green grass on the estate side of the palisades-wall now contrasts sharply with the flooded pastures of large reeds on the indigenous side (see photograph 3). Today, more than 43 years after the wall’s illegal construction, dozens of cows graze peacefully on the estate, while the scrawny animals of the Mapuche commune members find themselves buried in the muddy clay. “Nearly 12 hectares (29 acres) of our lands are now prone to flooding, and on the rest of the land animals barely survive; when one begins to construct one’s house the water appears right away” said a Pilolcura commune member.
Thus, community members consider September 9, 2003 a historic date. “It is a dream come true,” say Rosa Levío and Lucinda Huenuman—women from the Pilolcura community—with much emotion. “To achieve the opening of the retaining wall is a great victory resulting from several decades of struggle and mobilization,” declare Bladimir Painecura and René Huenchuñir, leaders of the Newen Pu Lafkenche Association, representing eight communities in the coastal Mapuche territory. Actual estate owner Juan Carlos Durán, present the day of the wall opening, recognizes that maybe his father committed an error in constructing this dike so harmful to Mapuche farmers, saying “nowadays it is necessary to work together in order to construct a country for all.” Leaders Fernando Huenchuñir of Champulli-Costa and Hernán Levío of Pilolcura say that three factors allowed for the dike opening: the return to democracy, community mobilization and the good will of the regional government and of public services. “We go about things in a legal manner,” said Levío. “We the Mapuche are not contentious like they would like to claim. Rather, we would like the support of the regional government. We would also like to construct a better future for our children through the work of the Mapuche organizations,” insists the president of Pilolcura. “We fight for what corresponds to us and we have looked for a solution through dialogue, the most beautiful thing there is.” Good will and dialogue were not always the case; during the time of the dictatorship, some of the leaders mobilizing in opposition to the wall disappeared. Lucinda of Pilolcura and Champulli community members Marta and Mirta give thanks to God and the Virgin for this dream come true, adding that they are happy that “Don Juan Carlos now realizes that what he was doing was unjust.”
The longko (traditional chief) of Pilolcura, Juan Colicheo, anxiously grabs the shovel and pickaxe to break a hole through the wall and allow the water trapped for more than four decades to run freely. The longko emphasizes the collaboration and support of all the communities. “By opening this wall, the horizon is opened to us” declares another emotional community member, dressed in a Chilean soccer jersey on the day of the Chile-Peru match. He notes, with much happiness, that when the land dries they will be able to plant crops and build sturdy homes. The communities will continue to work together to drain the water. According to René Hunchuñir, 130 families will benefit from the drainage work.
SATISFACTORY PUBLIC SERVICES
The Mapuche of Champulli, Coi Coi, Pilolcura, the three communities in the valley of Coi Coi, are not the only ones that are happy. Ruben Cariqueo, a consultant for the regional government and coordinator of the public service project in the zone, shares the general sense of achievement. A few months after the signing of an agreement between the public services of the region and the Association Newen pu Lafkenche, “concrete problems have been able to be solved through negotiation and conversations,” he observes. Environmental specialist Mario Castro from the South Araucanía Health Service also observed that opening of the wall can be considered an act of sanitation. Author of a report about the retaining wall’s impact, Castro says that the opening of the wall is the result not only of the pressure from Mapuche organizations but also of the support of several public services. Rodrigo Fuentes, substitute director of the water company (DGA), points out that “here a integral and definitive solution was sought so that this type of illegal situation will never be repeated again.” “According to the 1991 water code and to the much older civic code, it is not allowed for any property to produce a flood in another property” emphasizes Fuentes. Given the region’s size, public services cannot be aware of every illegal diversion of water, he observes. In the case of the Lobería sector retaining wall, the DGA acted in response to requests by the Association of Newen Pu Lafkenche communities. The situation reached a quick settlement because the substitute director, in addition to his own fieldwork, experienced collaboration with united and organized communities. Community participation, trained indigenous leaders and the public sector’s new way of looking at issues of land and Mapuche territory led to a peaceful resolution. The Mapuche demonstrated their capacity to negotiate but, above all, the State, in respecting the rule of law, contributed to reopening dialogue. In fact, the estate owner himself explains that what pushed him to accept the opening of the retaining wall was that “in legal terms it had to be that way.”
THE CHILEAN STATE AND THE MAPUCHE NATION: TOWARDS A NEW AGREEMENT
Community president Hernán Huenuman, DGA substitute director Fuentes and owner Durán emphasized that the solution to the conflict would have been impossible without the willingness of all the parties to have a dialogue, as well as respect for the current law. In this case, the state fulfilled its role of ensuring respect for the laws and of protecting the rights of the citizens, the communities and of the nations that live within the national territory. It is a good example of how democracy is constructed in a diverse or plurinational society through actions. In the end, the state did not do anything more or less than reestablishing a right that had been violated, but that ended the long conflict. An agreement signed on March 28, 2003 by the Newen pu Lafkenche Association with the regional public services made easier the resolution of the longstanding problems between the Durán estate and the indigenous communities. According to Association President Bladimir Painecura, “This precedent can be imitated, but certain conditions must be met in order to be able to do that,” a point of view shared by sociologist Augusto González, technical advisor to the Newen pu Lafkenche Association. González believes that the return to democracy, the new rapprochement of the state with the most distant parts of the country and the flourishing of the Mapuche rights movement help explain why what had not been accomplished for more than 40 years was accomplished in five months. The organizational capacity and the management of the Lafkenche Association both at the community level and the territorial level permitted it to knock on the correct doors. The victory underscored the organizational capacity of the communities in the Lafkenche territory; it was not just a successful resolution of the simple technical challenge of figuring out where to go to make one’s rights count. The organization of the communities according to an in-bred territorial ordering does not contradict the work of public services nor the state’s ambition to find integral solutions to conflicts and complex problems. In the case of the retaining wall, the Mapuche organizations and the Chilean state both seemed to draw strength from the episode, rather than entering in conflict. This represents a concrete example of how the solution to the so-called Mapuche problem passes through reform of the state and of its agents to the recognition of the Mapuche nation as a political, cultural, social, and juridical subject. That is how a new agreement appears possible through the daily construction of democracy adapted to the plurinational reality of the country. Even more so, the respect of the particular rights of the Mapuche nation tends to reinforce the universal rights of all citizens or groups of citizen, Mapuche or non-Mapuche. Far from representing a danger for Chile’s unity, the Mapuche social movement represents an opportunity for the deepening of the democracy in a socio-culturally diverse territory. The government itself seemed to share this idea, since it placed the notion of interculturality at the center of its reform of the state. The government has also aimed to strengthen dialogue, although often confronted with economic and political interests that go beyond the interests of Chilean civil society. The lesson of this story is that dialogue and negotiation are possible when democracy exists—which is not always the case when it involves respecting and recognizing the rights of the indigenous people of Chile.
SEPTEMBER 9TH: THE MAPUCHE-LAFKENCHE-CHILEAN DAY OF PATRIOTISM
To conclude, let us listen to the Pilolcura community member Richard Levío who summarized with humor and lucidity the significance of this important moment in both the Mapuche- Lafkenche history and in the relationship between the Chilean State and the Mapuche nation: “At least now the indigenous person is heard; before we were marginalized, we had no rights to anything. Today is a patriotic day for us. All we needed was the music to dance a pair of purunes (a Mapuche dance) with a pair of cueca (Chilean national dance). But given that we are all focused here on the opening of the wall, instead of the instruments we’ll use picks and shovels.”
Guillaume Boccara (Ph.D, EHESS, Paris, 1997), an anthropologist, is a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France). He has worked for several years with Mapuche communities in Chile. He has been a fellow at the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale, visiting professor at Yale University and at the Casa de las Américas (Spain). Among his more recent publications are "The Mapuche People in Post-Dictatorship Chile” in Etudes Rurales 163-164: 283-304 (2002), Guerre et Ethnogenèse Mapuche dans le Chili Colonial (Paris, Editions L’Harmattan, 1998), and Colonización, Resistencia y Mestizaje en las Américas (Quito-Lima, Editorial Abya Yala/IFEA, 2003). Boccara is currently working on the process of reterritorialization among the Chilean and Argentine Mapuche, neoliberal global governmentality and the reconfiguration of the nation-state in Chile and Argentina (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).