The Chilean Indians called "Mapuche" have migrated to cities by 60%. Many change their names and surnames to not be discriminated against by their white employers, but the reality is changing, now try to be represented by a political party that claims as original Chilean culture.
"Without a legal and political transformation is very difficult. It took a century to Sinn Fein, but we are taking the first steps," he said. (BBC Mundo, interview
"We demand our recognition as a political force"
Interview with Mapuche leader Gustavo Quilaqueo
The Coordinating Committee of Mapuche Organizations, a group of 37 Mapuche groups from southern Chile founded in September, is urging President Michelle Bachelet to move forward with an overhaul of the country’s indigenous policy. The group sent her a proposal Jan. 4 and in the coming weeks Bachelet will travel to the region to discuss the new plan with this committee. Gustavo Quilaqueo, member of the committee’s political arm and president of the Pro Wallmapuwen Party Organization, spoke with Hernán Scandizzo, Latinamerica Press collaborator, about the expectations and challenges in the Mapuche dialogue with the government.
What issues did the Mapuche proposal to President Bachelet highlight?
It’s not a specific issue, a particular demand, the issue of poverty, but rather it has to do with the relation between the state and the Mapuche people. Law, political participation and land issues are the three main points of the proposal, which also goes into more specific issues such as the economy and education. The executive branch is one of the most important parts in the structure of the state, but — and this is something we proposed the government — we also have to talk with the judicial branch, because it applies the laws that go against Mapuche rights. This is also a legislative issue. We have to win them over, because honestly, no one is telling us "Here is the representative of the legislative branch — from both chambers — here are the people from the judiciary, here are the people from the armed forces, here are the other religious, political sectors. Let’s talk about the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly the Mapuche."
How did you get so close with the current government?
There was an important connection by some organizations with Michelle Bachelet during her election campaign, during which she promised to consider new elements in the government’s agenda, particularly the indigenous issue, and even more specifically, the Mapuche issues. After she took office, the so-called National Dialogues took place, a government initiative to discuss important issues the president’s agenda should contain. An important Mapuche sector began to converse internally and in a trawun parliament (November 10th-11th, 2006), the commitment came up to present a proposal, which we did on January 4th in the La Moneda presidential palace.
How are the National Dialogues different from other attempts promoted by previous Concertación Democrática governments, which have ruled since 1990?
There is not much difference in general terms. One difference can be that the talks with the government were not a merely electoral promise but rather President Bachelet’s conviction that this is an unresolved issue. The second element is the capacity as a movement to present this proposal with political elements, unlike other proposals that focused on more common demands: more land, more subsidies, better access to education. Here, we are demanding our recognition as a political force facing the state.The proposal goes beyond asking the states to ratify the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on indigenous peoples in independent countries and the constitutional recognition of the Mapuche people’s pre-existence. The ratification of Convention 169, the constitutional recognition, the Indigenous law, or that there be an indigenous ministry with a certain level of representation, in reality are not substantial things for what we are saying in this proposal, which has to do with our recognition as a valid political force, with rights and with our differences. But this is a process that will take time; it won’t happen immediately.
Will the Coordinating Committee of Mapuche Organizations’ role end in these dialogues?
The committee does not necessarily need to see itself as a new organization that is trying to represent the entire Mapuche movement. Different branches converge there, but there is a will to recognize unresolved common issues that have to do with more deeply-rooted problems. If we are able to establish some common criteria for working together, and we do it well, it will send a message to a good part of the movement that will perhaps make this the way, so that the local demands aren’t lost in the large demand.It will be a step toward continued action because the problems are historic; they’re structural problems that I don’t think can be resolved in a couple of conversations. What needs to be built today is minimum mechanisms, the minimum conditions for a longer process and this process will lay the basic principles of the Mapuche movement’s political action. If we are capable of sustaining these principles we will advance in participatory processes. We are saying that in no more than two or three years the Mapuche will have proposed a new agenda with real possibilities of achieving some objectives.
The Mapuche sectors that are not participating in the dialogue say that the committee is an invention of the Concertación Democrática government.Recognizing that this process came about from a call from the state and the fact that it’s not so autonomous, our response is that this is an intermediate response toward a situation in which there will be greater levels of autonomy and more decision-making by the Mapuches. After this process, in a year or two, we are going to determine whether having a dialogue with the government meant dancing to the tune of the Concertación or whether it allowed us to lay the foundations for a different kind of relationship.What could be different in this new stage is that as a movement, we could be capable of putting the issues on the table, defending them and create, in some way, important changes. Forcing the government and state to change part of their agenda and incorporate our issues will depend in much extent on the political aptitude and mobilization that we have, but we’ll determine this after seeing what we’re capable to do in 2007.
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