Cablegate: Chile: Indigenous Conflict Tops Domestic Political Agenda


DE RUEHSG #0843/01 2532136
O 102136Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/09/10
SUBJECT: CHILE: Indigenous Conflict Tops Domestic Political Agenda


CLASSIFIED BY: Laurie Weitzenkorn, A/DCM; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (SBU) Summary: Indigenous conflict -- particularly between
Mapuche and non-indigenous land owners in southern Chile -- has
forced itself prominently on to President Bachelet's political
agenda following the August 12 police killing of a Mapuche
activist. Over the past 20 years, relations between the government
and Mapuche communities have been characterized by half-hearted
attempts by the government and fractious organization and demands
by the Mapuche, creating disappointment and frustration that
perpetuate tension. Mapuche demands center on land, economic
opportunity, and societal inclusion, but are poorly defined and
vary greatly from community to community. End Summary.

2. (U) Poloff and Pol Specialist travelled to the heart of Chile's
Mapuche territory, the regions of Araucania and Los Rios, August
10-14. Reftel described the reality of tense, but generally
non-violent, relations in contrast to the sensationalized images of
the region. Septel will describe human right concerns and the
justice process.

After Mapuche Death, Indigenous Issues Claim Center Stage

--------------------------------------------- ------------

3. (U) The August 12 police killing of Mapuche activist Jaime
Mendoza -- and the subsequent reaction from indigenous communities
-- has catapulted indigenous demands to the front of President
Bachelet's political agenda once again. Mapuche activists held
protests and blockaded a highway, while more than 3,000 mourners
packed Mendoza's funeral. When President Bachelet sent a
government delegation, led by the Under Secretary of the
Presidency, to meet with all parties in Araucania, the Mapuche
community refused to meet with the group. Bachelet subsequently
named a cabinet minister, Jose Antonio Viera-Gallo, as the
government's new indigenous policy coordinator, effectively
capitulating to a long-standing Mapuche demand for higher-level
government attention. Meanwhile, another indigenous group --
Easter Islanders -- seem to have been inspired by Mapuche activism,
recently occupying the island's only airport for 24 hours in a

successful effort to gain government attention to their demands.

Dashed Hopes: Concertacion's Failed Indigenous Policies

--------------------------------------------- -----------

4. (SBU) Chile's return to democracy seemed to be a promising
beginning for relations between the state and the Mapuche community
after a history of conflict (reftel). The 1993 Indigenous Law
legally recognized ethnic communities for the first time; protected
current indigenous lands; created a fund to secure additional lands
claimed by indigenous communities; established an indigenous
development fund; and formed the National Corporation for
Indigenous Development (CONADI), a new government body charged with
implementing indigenous policy.

5. (SBU) Despite this encouraging start, indigenous Chileans have
become frustrated with the Concertacion's broken promises,
government inaction, and inefficient administration. Under Ricardo
Lagos (1998-2004), the government approved the construction of a
hydroelectric dam in Mapuche areas, despite more than a decade of
strenuous objections from Mapuche activists. He later issued a
last minute and poorly explained cancellation to what would have
been the largest ever meeting between the Mapuche community and the
Chilean President, angering thousands who had travelled from across
the country for the dialogue.

6. (SBU) For her part, President Bachelet has been slow to focus
on indigenous issues. She announced her indigenous policy,
Re-Conocer, more than half way through her four-year term and in
response to the outcry over the police shooting death of a Mapuche
activist in January 2008. Critics charge (and privately some
CONADI officials agree) that Re-Conocer is just re-packaging
previous policies and creating more bureaucracy. Bachelet's
presidential commissioner for indigenous affairs, Rodrigo Egana,

was described by a prominent civic leader and close friend as
"focused elsewhere."

7. (SBU) Moreover, the very organization that was meant to assist
indigenous Chileans, CONADI, has become a lightning rod for native
criticism. CONADI is decried as a bureaucratic and lethargic
organization which, by looking to hire talented indigenous
professionals, has co-opted many of the indigenous communities'
best leaders. More than 90% of the agency's budget is dedicated to
purchasing ancestral lands, yet land disputes appear to be
worsening rather than subsiding. CONADI aims to boost
opportunities for indigenous Chileans through scholarships and
micro-enterprise support, but these grants are small (average USD
6,000 for micro-enterprises), short-term, and labor-intensive to
administer, further eating up resources. Several Mapuche and
non-indigenous sources told us that only 30% of CONADI's budget
actually reaches the communities it intends to serve, with the rest
being lost to bureaucracy, waste, and inflated land prices.

Land, Opportunity, and Respect: Mapuche Demands

--------------------------------------------- ---

8. (U) The recovery of traditional Mapuche lands is the most
common trigger for violent conflict and property destruction.
Mapuche communities now live on just 6% of the territory they once
controlled -- an unsettling situation for a people whose name means
"people of the land." Activists are quick to point out that some
wealthy white Chilean individuals -- such as forestry magnate
Roberto Angelini -- own more land in traditional Mapuche areas than
the entire Mapuche population combined. On the other hand,
non-indigenous Chileans often have strong ties to the formerly
Mapuche land they now own. Due to government colonization
policies, some non-indigenous Chileans have lived on traditional
Mapuche lands for generations, while many prominent businessmen
have made substantial investments in land that they bought legally.

9. (SBU) The 1993 Indigenous Law, while designed to address these
land concerns, has in some ways exacerbated the situation. The law
provided a mechanism and funding to buy back traditional Mapuche
land, but failed to set expectations about how much land would be
recovered. The resulting process has been expensive, extremely
slow, and resulted in less new land for Mapuches than they
expected. Non-indigenous land owners often engage in price
gouging, raising prices for disputed land to ridiculous levels,
limiting the amount of land that can be purchased with budgeted
funds. While the Chilean government has transferred more than
650,000 hectares for Mapuche use, the vast majority of this land
was already de facto Mapuche territory -- the purchase simply
regularized the facts on the ground. Human rights campaigner Jose
Aylwin told poloffs that only about 100,000 hectares of new land
has been turned over to Mapuches since 1993.

10. (SBU) Aside from land disputes, poverty, lack of opportunity,
and discrimination by majority Chilean culture are all underlying
causes of conflict. The poverty rate for indigenous people is 12
percentage points higher than for non-indigenous populations.
Araucania -- the region with the highest percentage of Mapuche
residents -- has the country's highest unemployment rate, nearly 11
percent. And Mapuches face widespread discrimination.
Multiculturalism is an uncommon term in a country that takes pride
in its unitary "Chileanness," which is enshrined in the
constitution. Mapuche academics in Temuco and Valdivia told
Poloffs of experiences demonstrating how anti-Mapuche racism is
acceptable even among well-educated Chileans. Typical Chilean
attitudes toward Mapuches range from ignorance to distrust.

Who Speaks for the Mapuche?


11. (SBU) The decentralized hierarchy and diffuse leadership that
characterize Mapuche culture (described as a "multi-headed hydra"
by one academic) impede community efforts to organize and
complicate Chilean government efforts to find a valid negotiating

partner. Mapuche villages are traditionally quite independent from
one another, and are led by lonkos, or tribal chiefs.
Traditionally, no authority exists beyond the lonko, meaning that
no single person or organization speaks for the Mapuche. Because
each lonko is viewed as the ultimate authority for his, admittedly
very small, group of Mapuches, slights are inevitable as some
Mapuches claim that each lonko should have access directly to the
President, who represents the ultimate authority in majoritarian
Chilean culture. Even more realistic Mapuche activists bristle
when lonkos can not get meetings with the regional intendente
(centrally appointed governor) and instead deal with lower-ranking
civil servants.

12. (SBU) The on-going conflict with the government has led to the
creation of new leadership structures across and within
communities, from the sometimes violent Coordinadora Arauco Malleco
(CAM) to the more pacifist Council of All Lands, to
community-specific organizations with elected leadership. The
newly created Mapuche Territorial Alliance aims to unite disparate
Mapuche communities in a peaceful struggle for land rights. Within
communities, the Chilean government has dictated that it will work
only with elected representative Mapuche councils, leading to the
creation of new bodies which supporters say are an effective way to
make decisions and interact with the government, while detractors
lament the loss of lonko authority and say that the council members
have been co-opted.

13. (SBU) These new organizations, and the positions that some of
them take, reflect the deep divisions in the Mapuche community.
There is no consensus on what approach to take in seeking redress,
or even on what the community's issues and goals are. In meetings
with two lonkos in neighboring communities, one described his
efforts to promote community-based tourism, gain access to CONADI
resources and grants, and share traditional knowledge about local
wildlife. In contrast, another lonko described his work on a
proposal that would demand the return of all land from the Biobio
river to the city of Palena -- an area compromising the majority of
four of Chile's 15 regions -- end all major investment projects in
the region, and dismantle CONADI.

14. (C) Comment: There is plenty of blame in Chile's
long-standing Mapuche conflict to spread to all parties. Mapuche
communities are disorganized and incoherent, offering up a range of
demands from the logical to the fanciful, and rarely coordinating
their efforts. A small number of violent actors discredit those
who work in good faith to advance legitimate grievances. On the
other hand, successive Concertacion governments have bungled
indigenous policy, perpetually making it a low priority and failing
to set and meet realistic expectations. Even with Bachelet's
decision to designate a new, and higher-ranking indigenous policy
coordinator, it is difficult to envision substantial progress in
resolving this complex, long-standing issue. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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