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Chile’s Mapuche community stops airport construction in Temuco

Thursday, May 27th 2010 - 09:03 UTC
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Mapuches are quite violent in some of their protests torching farms and blocking roads Mapuches are quite violent in some of their protests torching farms and blocking roads

Santiago de Chile Appeals Court last week ruled in favour of Mapuche indigenous leaders to stop development of a new international airport near Temuco in the south of the country. The airport is located on ancestral lands belonging to the Mapuche.

Iván Reyes, president of the Ayún Mapu Indigenous Association, said the petition was filed against the Ministry of Public Works, represented by its minister Hernán de Solminihac, last week, asking for the cancellation of the project since it constitutes a violation to their rights, as stipulated in the Agreement number 169 of the International Work Organization, valid since 2009.

In February — without the group’s consent—the government approved the initiation of construction of the airport, awarding the project to BELFI Company.

Following last week’s decision, the Ministry of Public Works has five-days to present its defence. But after examining legal arguments, the court decided to temporarily stop the airport’s construction process.

When asked about the ruling, Mr. Reyes told the Santiago Times that it is “a very positive situation; it certainly gives us hope and makes us trust in the institutions.”

Meanwhile, new hostilities between Mapuche groups and the government took place just last weekend, when several members of Mapuche groups set fire on some farms and blocked local roads in the south as a way of protesting for their rights.

This type of protest, which had not been seen since the Feb. 27 earthquake, is being attributed to the lack of mention of Mapuche issues in the recent May 21 presidential speech by Chile’s new conservative president Sebastian Piñera.

Mapuche leader Juan Catrillanca said in order to open a dialogue with the current government, authorities have to give back at least 14,000 hectares of land. Should this not happen, “Mapuches will have ‘liberty of action’ to continue with our protests,” Catrillanca told local media.

But Araucania Regional Governor Andrés Molina insisted that “no kind of violent expression shall be tolerated” and that more than receiving ultimatum, authorities want to receive proposals to improve the local communities’ situation.

The struggle between Mapuche communities and the national government is centuries old. The new Piñera government is reportedly preparing a new strategy for dealing with the Mapuche that include providing greater autonomy.

By Beatriz León M. – Santiago Times

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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