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Chile announces aid plan for indigenous region

September 25, 2018

Chile's public and private sectors are locked in an ongoing struggle with the Mapuches. The indigenous group accuse them of taking their ancestral land, draining its natural resources, and acts of violence.

Sebastian Pinera announces aid plan for Mapuche region
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Rodriguez

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced on Monday a development plan for the southern region of Araucania, home to the indigenous Mapuche people. Some $8 billion (€6.8 billion) is to be invested between 2018 and 2026 to improve the quality of life of the area's residents.

The investment is the latest in a series of government efforts that have sought to resolve the ongoing conflict between the state and the Mapuches, whose communities are among the poorest in Chile and who demand that their ancestral lands be returned to them.

In addition to the funds, Pinera plans to introduce constitutional reform to formally recognize indigenous communities and give them greater representation in the national parliament through a quota system for candidate lists. It would also create a Ministry and Council of Native Peoples within the Chilean government.

'Not a final answer'

Pinera said that the plan was an "initiative that reflects the will for dialogue and reaching agreements, to begin a phase that seeks peace, more justice and prosperity and an inclusive place for all families."

"From the middle of the 19th century the Chilean state promoted a policy of occupation of the lands that had previously belonged to our native inhabitants," Pinera said in the Araucania city of Temuco, some 600 kilometers south of the capital Santiago. The plan, however, does not include any efforts to redistribute land.

Read more: The Mapuche of Chile - Struggle for Territorial Rights and Justice

"It is not the final answer, it is a proposal that we hope can be analyzed and enriched by all of civil society," Pinera noted.

According to government documents, the new funds will be spent on housing subsidies, infrastructure improvements and a dozen new hospitals for the Araucania region.

Mapuche of Chile fighting for their land

Not all Mapuches are convinced

The Mapuche people from Araucania, who make up over 30 per cent of the local population, have long accused the state and private companies of taking their ancestral land, draining its natural resources, and committing acts of violence against them.

Read more: Chile's lithium – blessing or curse?

After the announcement, some Mapuche communities were not sold on the plan, saying they would continue to fight for the repossession of their ancestral lands. "We are not backing down, we are also not going to negotiate our political process for a few pesos," spokesman for the Mapuche Ranquilco community Rodrigo Curipan.

"For the private sector this probably signified a positive position because in the end what matters to them is to continue investing in the territory," Curipan said of the $8 billion aid package.

The head of the council of Mapuche mayors, Juan Carlos Reinao, told local media that he was skeptical about the success of the constitutional reform plan. He pointed out that quotas had failed in other countries and that only reserved minority seats in parliament would achieve the goal of increasing indigenous representation.

In the last few years, the standoff between the Mapuche community and the public and private sectors has seen a spike in violent episodes. Members of the police, farmers and other residents have died, while several dozen Mapuches have been prosecuted and jailed, primarily for arson attacks.

jcg/jm (EFE, dpa, Reuters)

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