Chile: when ‘sustainability’ demands armed protection

Chile: when ‘sustainability’ demands armed protection

The Mapuche are the most populous indigenous people in Chile. They long resisted the Spanish colonial conquest and in 1641 secured a treaty with Spanish Crown recognising their rights to all their remaining lands south of the BioBio river - some 10 million hectares of their ancestral lands.

Since Chile achieved its independence, pressure on these lands has mounted first through a vicious war of pacification which annexed the whole of southern Chile into the new Republic. The Mapuche were compelled to settle in some 3,000 centralised villages and granted only 500,000 ha of land. Even these areas have been progressively taken over by land speculators, loggers, large-scale land owners, colonisation concessions and settlers.

During the Pinochet dictatorship, laws were passed to individualise remaining Mapuche lands, while poverty forced many Mapuche to sell the small land parcels they were apportioned. Meanwhile, Chilean government encouraged the expansion of large-scale pulpwood plantations. These now extend over about 2.6 million hectares of what were once Mapuche lands, the majority in the hands of just two companies.

FSC certification has encouraged these companies to permit Mapuche to have access to sacred sites within their timber plantations and a number of the largest timber operations have now been certified. However, the Mapuche have been demanding more recognition of their land rights and in some areas relations between the Mapuche and the companies have deteriorated.

In this article [español], the Mapuche spokesperson Pablo Huaiquilao asks, what does it mean when ‘sustainability’ demands armed protection? As FSC now sets about rethinking how it applies its strengthened standard to the Chilean situation, in line with international norms on indigenous peoples’ rights, it must find novel ways of recognising Mapuche land rights.         Other links:International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs reports in Mapuche and forestry…