Chile may be categorized as a country with high human development by the United Nations, but the benefits generally do not reach the country’s Mapuche communities.
According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, the Mapuche income levels are one-third that of the non-Mapuche Chileans. For its part, the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, said that one-third of indigenous homes in Chile headed by a woman are below the poverty line.
The report “Territorial Inequalities and Social Exclusion of the Mapuche People in Chile: Situation of the Ercilla Commune under a Human Rights-based Approach,” a joint report by ECLAC and the Mapuche Territorial Alliance, an umbrella group representing 1 million Mapuche, said that these communities’ problems are rooted in the loss or degradation of their land, mainly due to an expansion of the forestry industry and increasingly scarce water resources.
Ercilla is located 700 kilometers (438 miles) south of Santiago, and 40 percent of its land is used for pine timber.
Juan Catrillanca, the ñizol longko, or highest leader of the Mapuche Territorial Alliance, said that it is the Mapuche’ “legitimate right” to reclaim their land.
In 1974, the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship issued a decree promoting the forestry industry that ended indigenous community property. Governments later used a 1984 anti-terrorism law to respond to resistance from the indigenous communities.
The conflict between the indigenous and the government grew even more tense in July 2010 during a hunger strike by 34 Mapuche prisoners against the application of that law. The protest intensified two months later when Mapuche demonstrators took over the ECLAC and International Labor Organization sites in Santiago.
The measure, along with backing from international human rights groups and communities, ended with the government dropping terrorist charges against the prisoners, charging them instead with common crimes. The government also called for a legal reform to ensure that civilians are only tried in civilian, not military, courts thus avoiding double trial.