by Rhodri C. Williams
I’m grateful to the students in a course I’m currently teaching on minority rights in Stockholm for pointing out an interesting and potentially significant development that got lost behind the drama of last month’s rescue of 33 miners from the bowels of a collapsed shaft. In an earlier post that elaborated on a longer piece by David Dudenhoefer in OpenDemocracy, I discussed how the Chilean earthquake last February both obscured and highlighted the simmering tensions between the Mapuche indigenous group resident in the affected area since time immemorial and the incoming government of President Sebastian Pinera.
Mapuche protests over the land taken from them after their initial military defeat in the 19th century and in the course of a wave of malicious privatization undertaken under the Pinochet regime has often involved violence and property damage. The Chilean official response has been schizophrenic. On one hand, earlier governments both ratified ILO Convention 169 and committed themselves to a program of voluntary buy-back of confiscated Mapuche land. On the other hand, the government response to protests has been heavy-handed. Harsh police tactics, lethal use of force and dubious trials under a Pinochet-era anti-terrorism law ultimately led to a hunger-strike by Mapuche activists that generated a good deal of negative publicity since the time of the mine collapse last August.