Growing Tensions between Mapuche and Government in Chile

In Chile, indigenous protests have led to escalating tensions between the Mapuche peoples and the government and non-indigenous society. Mapuche peoples have been protesting, demanding the return of their traditional lands and protesting against programs that affect their culture and society, including deforestation and highway projects through their lands.  This week, a protest turned violent, as two landowners who resisted Mapuche claims died when their house was set on fire. In a counter-protest, Chilean truckers have blocked the main highway through the country to protest the Mapuche demands for land rights (this is not the first time truckers have taken such a stance; a truckers’ strike against the Allende government played a key role in furthering social and political ferment in the months leading up to the 1973 coup). Meanwhile, President Sebastián Piñera met with his cabinet and is expected to apply a Pinochet-era terrorism law against the Mapuche, the only group in Chile that still finds itself regularly the target of the right-wing dictatorship’s draconian definitions of (and responses to) “terror”. This would not be the first time the Chilean government has applied the law to the Mapuche in reply to their protests and demands; indeed, previous presidents from the left, including Michele Bachelet (who was herself a victim of torture under the Pinochet regime) have used the law against the Mapuche. Of course, the government’s ongoing use of the anti-terrorism law against the Mapuche has further strengthened Mapuche accusations of official racism and oppression from the government. Given how long the Mapuche have been demanding the return of their lands and how long the Chilean state has relied on exceptional measures to try to suppress the Mapuche, it is not clear where exactly these tensions will lead, but it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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