On Friday 24 August, 2007, the UNPO Secretariat was delighted to receive three guests in its offices. Ms M. Railaf Zuniga, Mr R. Railaf from the Foundation ‘Mapuche Stichting FOLIL’ made the long journey from Groningen down to The Hague to give the Secretariat staff a presentation on the work of their organisation, and of Mapuche issues, culture, and history in general.
The Mapuche are located in south-central Chile and total over 1.5 million people, making them the largest indigenous population in Chile and one of the largest of South America as a whole. They have been a UNPO Member since 1993 and are represented through ‘The Mapuche International Link’, who’s General Secretary, Mr Reynaldo Mariqueo, is a member of the UNPO Presidency (as of October 2006).
Ms Railaf Zuniga opened the presentation with an overview of Mapuche Foundation FOLIL, which was set up in 2000 to promote Mapuche culture and to highlight the plight of the Mapuche, with a particular focus on the situation in Chile. Amongst other things to Foundation has set up a website, which offers a platform for the awareness of Mapuche issues in multiple languages. She also described some of the events organised in and around Groningen and spoke of the resurgence of Mapuche culture back in Chile.
Following this, Mr. Rafael Railaf presented a more detailed insight into the history of the Mapuche and the origins of the problems they face today.
To summarise, the newly independent Chilean state in 1881 confiscated around 95% of Mapuche land and viewed them as second class citizens. However, until the coming to power of Pinochet in 1973, the Mapuche had still enjoyed a certain degree of control over the land. After 1973, Pinochet commenced a process of selling the land to large multinational corporations and thus ownership of the land was taken completely out of Mapuche hands. What is more, the Pinochet regime refused to officially acknowledge the existence of Mapuche as a distinct people within Chile.
Since the demise of Pinochet, the struggle for land ownership, cultural rights, and official recognition has continued, with the Chilean authorities at times using heavy handed tactics and legal procedures against the campaigners. While the issues are far from settled, there is hope for the future in that Mapuche culture and identity is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance and that the recognition of the Mapuche within the Chilean constitution is currently being debated in Santiago.
The presentation ended with a preview of the Foundation’s most recent project, a documentary about the Argentinean Mapuche struggle against the Italian clothing manufacturer Benetton, who possess vast tracts of land that historically belonged to the Mapuche. Though largely still in pre-production, hopefully this fascinating documentary will be broadcast soon.