Boric Says That He Will Return To The Mapuche People The Lands Taken 150 Years Ago To Appease The Conflict

Gabriel Boric, President of Chile, during a press conference at the Government Palace, in October.

Eight months have passed since President Gabriel Boric took power and the conflict between the Mapuche people and the Chilean state, which affects several regions in the south of the country, has not de-escalated one degree. On the contrary: in May the Government promoted a new state of emergency in the area, extended until today, which has been deployed by the military in the place because the violence and attacks on forest machinery, farms and infrastructure have intensified.

Boric is playing one of the most important cards of his term in La Araucanía, the epicenter of the conflict. A few days ago he visited the region for the first time as president, a trip that aroused much expectation. During the tour of the territory, the president presented several security measures and left for the last day the announcement of a commission “for peace and understanding” that will focus on one of the essential elements to advance in the resolution of the conflict: the return of the lands that the Chilean State – and part of those conquered by the Spanish – usurped from the Mapuche communities during the second half of the 19th century, and which ended up in the hands of private foreigners or Chileans.


After independence from Spain, from 1861 to 1883, the so-called Pacification of La Araucanía took place in the indigenous territories, a second colonization carried out by the State itself and which seized the lands from the Mapuche people. “The dispossession of their lands –which was the clear objective– was consummated in a couple of years. Once Villarrica, the last Mapuche stronghold, was refounded, the region was filled with settlers from another continent [Europa]: people considered civilized, capable of promoting progress (…) The system consisted of eradicating the main lonkos [líderes mapuche], and their extended families, giving them a piece of land as a community. Approximately 10% of what they had before, distributed in some 3,000 communities ”, describes the journalist Malú Sierra in her book A people without a state. Mapuche, people of the land.

“The territory has a political, social and cultural value. It is the most sacred thing we have and it is the space where the Mapuche people practice their identity,” Ana Llao, a Mapuche advisor to the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (Conadi), a public service created in 1993 by the Indigenous Law, told to promote the development of the different peoples that inhabit the country. “We have been living from invasion to invasion and we carry tremendous pain to defend our territorial spaces. Without land, the Mapuche people cease to be a people,” she adds.

The return of these lands, which also includes some of those conquered by the Spanish, has been a constant demand of the indigenous people that no government has been able to satisfy. Boric now wants to carry out his own attempt, through a commission that will identify the lands that must be returned and establish how and when to do it.

“It must be said that it will not be possible to restore them all: there are cities built on Mapuche land and these have to be preserved,” he warned. Those where there are people established for a long time will not be touched either. The Government will request international help from other countries with similar experiences, such as Canada, the United States and New Zealand, to receive “accompaniment” in the process.

Until today, the Indigenous Law only recognizes the obligation to return the lands that are protected by the legal titles delivered by the State and that recognize that these lands belonged to them before they were taken away. “It leaves out an important part of the claimed territory, such as ancestral lands and those whose traditional use can be accredited,” explains the director of the Citizen Observatory Hernando Silva, an expert in the rights of Indigenous Peoples. In order to return them, the State has to acquire the land from private land at market price, but the public budget considered for this is not enough: “It is not allowed to advance in the necessary number of hectares to be delivered and, sometimes, the restitution it is done with lands other than those claimed by the communities,” says Silva. For Llao, as long as public resources do not increase, there will be no difference between Boric’s proposal and the current law: “We always clash with Congress because the right wing questions the budget increase and, if it is possible to raise it by 2023, it will be very little” .

The return system is “saturated”, according to Silva, and there is a waiting list of about 500 communities that meet the legal requirements to receive the land, but that the State has not been able to implement.

The proposal for the new Constitution, rejected in the plebiscite on September 4, addressed the restitution of indigenous lands for the first time in the country’s constitutional history and considered expropriation as “an effective legal instrument” for this. On the other hand, in the current Magna Carta, there is no mandate for State bodies to promote measures for the return of indigenous lands.

On the other hand, Boric has hardened his position on security in the region. He has gone from being a supporter of dialogue, even with radical organizations that use direct action and sabotage as a political tactic, to calling their leaders “cowards” and comparing their actions to the burning of synagogues by the Nazis.

When one of the radical Mapuche leaders assured that it was necessary to “channel the violence towards a very well-directed sabotage, towards inputs, towards machinery”, the Executive expanded a complaint filed in 2018 by the Sebastián Piñera Administration, which allowed his imprisonment. During the campaign, Boric ruled out applying the state of emergency in the area several times, which he finally decreed in May.

“The Mapuche had trusted a new government, younger and with a different charisma, but after the trip [de Boric] to the region we once again lost the hope that we once had. It was a visit to make the right wing and businessmen agree”, says Ana Llao. “If there is no political will to make real progress, the conflict will continue.”



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