The Associated Press reports that small groups of Mapuche Indians in Chile have burned buses and attacked police as part of their demands for land and autonomy. The Press reports that the leftist government has turned to dictatorship-era measures in response.
Apparently, the government of President Michelle Bachelet is prosecuting Mapuche activists with secret evidence, protected witnesses, and tough measures of anti-terrorism law that harken back to Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s oppressive regime.
UNICEF, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and other international organizations have expressed concerns that elderly people and children are being abused.
Pres. Bachelet says she understands the historic claims of the Indigenous group, who once occupied most of Patagonia and have been forced off good land by centuries of discriminatory practices, and mostly now live in impoverished, marginalized communities in Chile’s Araucania region or provide low-wage labor in the capital, Santiago.
“It must be understood that the only way to resolve the legitimate historical demands of the Mapuche people is dialogue,” said Ms. Bachelet, who despite her 78 percent approval rating has been bedeviled by the Indian conflict as she prepares to step down in March.
The Associated Press and other news agencies toured the conflict zone about 400 miles south of Santiago, speaking with jailed leaders and visiting indigenous communities.
The Mapuche resisted Spanish and Chilean domination for more than 300 years, and their desire for autonomy remains strong. It wasn’t until 1881 that they were defeated militarily and forced into Araucania, south of the Bio Bio river.
Many of the 700,000 Mapuches who survive among Chile’s 16.6 million people now live in about 2,000 communities in Araucania. Of these, about 100 are openly in rebellion against the government, while most favor peaceful negotiations for land, supplies and equipment.
Activists have occupied the forests, attacked police and pulled people from their vehicles along the Pan-American Highway before setting the vehicles on fire, destroying 27 buses worth $100,000 each in the past two years alone. The unrest has created so much risk for outside investors that the local economy has been badly hurt.