In southern Chile, a long-running conflict pitting the indigenous Mapuche people against security forces has taken a radical turn. Arson attacks, threats and armed clashes have multiplied in recent months. The Chilean authorities no longer hesitate to use the word "terrorism" when referring to the region. They are even resorting to the use of force to put down the rebellion, drawing condemnation from the UN and human rights bodies. FRANCE 24’s Ingrid Piponiot and Vincent Rimbaux report.
We travelled to Temuco, in southern Chile, the historical stronghold of the Mapuche. These indigenous people make up some 10% of the Chilean population. Since the arrival of Spanish settlers in the 16th century, they have lost 95% of their so-called ancestral land, which today is mainly in the hands of big companies that exploit the area’s forests and water resources.
Unconvinced by the meagre territorial concessions of the Chilean authorities in the 1990s, some groups of indigenous Mapuche activists have become radicalised, going so far as to demand autonomy. They now target companies located on land claimed by the Mapuche communities. By sabotaging machines and carrying out arson attacks, these groups of masked individuals have created a climate of fear in the region.
Their main weapon: occupying land
We went to meet these radicalised pro-autonomy activists, who despite disproportionate media coverage represent only a small minority of the Mapuche population. Extremely distrustful, they refuse to be interviewed on camera. However, we did obtain rare access to Hector Llaitul, leader of the main pro-autonomy Mapuche group CAM.
Aside from the radicalised resistance groups, most of the Mapuche communities live peacefully – albeit illegally – on private land owned by logging or water companies. Even more than sabotage and arson, occupying land has become the main weapon of the Mapuche struggle. These communities hope to win their fight against landowners by wearing them down, while running the risk of being evicted by the authorities.
Dialogue of the deaf
But in response to the demands of the Mapuche, Chile is systematically resorting to repression. Today, the region is heavily militarised. The roads leading to the communities are patrolled all day long by police in armoured cars, sometimes accompanied by tanks or helicopters. If arrested, the Mapuche face Chile’s Anti-Terrorist Law, a legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship.
While filming this report, we felt we were witnessing a dialogue of the deaf. The Mapuche struggle is becoming more radical, yet neither the activists nor the Chilean authorities are open to negotiation. At present, no path to peace seems able to emerge.