The Chilean government started contacts in an attempt to ease tension and find solutions to the escalating conflict with the indigenous Mapuche in the southern province of La Araucania which has seen killings and properties torched.
Interior minister Andres Chadwick and Social Development minister Joaquin Lavin are holding meetings in Temuco, capital of the conflict area, with lawmakers, Mapuche mayors and councillors, farmers, relatives of victims and the business community.
The conflict dates back to the nineties when Mapuches, the largest indigenous group of Chile started claiming land they consider ancestral and is currently managed by private farmers. The worst incident occurred early January with the deaths of wealthy landowner and forestry businessman of German descent Werner Luchsinger and his wife Vivian Mackay after a hooded gang set their home on fire. There has been an only arrest so far.
Mapuches complain that they are the only community to which the Chilean governments apply the ferocious “Anti-terrorist law”, a legacy of the Pinochet regime.
“We don’t want to generate great expectations because we know there are many pending issues, from years back and we can’t resolve them overnight” said Lavin speaking to the media in Temuco. He added that one of the issues addressed was the acknowledgement of indigenous peoples’ rights in the Chilean constitution and the political participation of Mapuches, whom have no representation in Congress.
“I think the government has a great opportunity to negotiate not only with the organized groups but with the whole Mapuche community”, said Juan Carlos Reinao who is a local councillor and a surgeon trained in Cuba. He belongs to a group which the Chilean government considers ‘subversive’.
Another Mapuche leader and mayor of a local town, Fernando Huaiquil demanded ‘dialogue guaranties’, a withdrawal of Carabineros who have Mapuche communities ‘under siege’ and to dismiss those members of the Police involved in the killings of Mapuches.
However the Chilean Minister of Interior said the government does not accept conditions to begin discussions but is confident they will continue talking next week and sent a strong signal. An invitation originally discarded, was finally accepted by the government and it will be sending a representative, as an observer, to a summit of Mapuche communities next Thursday.
Following the 4 January deaths the Chilean government reinforced police patrolling in the area where there has been a string of similar attacks on property, and at the same time announced it will apply the anti terrorist law against those found guilty.
President Piñera also announced that he would reactivate the so called ‘Hinzpeter Bill’, a controversial public order measure to protect government and private property which has been strongly criticized by student organizations, the media and some constitutional experts.
According to Chile’s Attorney General Office data published in a Santiago daily the number of reported crimes in La Araucania linked to the Mapuche conflict increased 77% in twelve months: from 169 in 2011 to 300 last year.