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The state of emergency was declared and the army deployed by Chilean President Sebastian Piñera in two southern regions of the country, in the grip of strong tensions with Mapuche Amerindians. This announcement was made on the very day that Latin America, amid controversy with indigenous peoples, commemorates the arrival of the Spanish navigator Christopher Columbus in 1492.
The President of Chile, Sebastian Piñera, on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in two regions in the south of the country, theaters of a conflict with indigenous Mapuche, who demand the restitution of their ancestral lands. “We are announcing today (…) that we have decided to declare a state of emergency” in four provinces of the regions of Biobio and Araucania (south), located 600 km south of Santiago, a declared President Piñera.
The announcement was accompanied by a military deployment: this “includes the appointment of heads of National Defense” who will be responsible for restoring public order which suffers from “serious disturbances”, he added. The soldiers, present in these two regions, will participate in the maintenance of order, by providing logistical support to the police and by participating in patrols.
This announcement was made on the occasion of a brief message to the nation, the very day Latin America, against a background of controversy with indigenous peoples, commemorates the arrival of the Spanish navigator Christopher Columbus in 1492. “Are of common knowledge the serious and repeated acts of violence linked to drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime, committed by armed groups “in these four provinces where” innocent people “and police have died, added the conservative president .
The state of emergency is currently declared for two weeks in the provinces of Biobio, Arauco (region of Biobio), Malleco and Cautin (region of Araucania). The measure, which requires a vote in Parliament to be extended beyond a month, “is in no way directed against a people or a group of citizens,” assured Sebastian Piñera.
A fight for land restitution
The Mapuche, ie 1.7 million people out of 19 million Chileans, mainly present in the South, have long demanded the return of their land in the hands of landowners or foresters. Faced with a stalemate, the conflict has led to an escalation of violence in recent years, with waves of arson attacks on private property by militant groups.
>> To see: In Chile, the long struggle of the Mapuche for their land
On Sunday, clashes broke out in Santiago between demonstrators and the police during a “March for Mapuche resistance and peoples’ autonomy”, leaving one dead and 17 injured.
The presence of drug trafficking networks and self-defense organizations was highlighted, as well as police manipulations intended to trap indigenous populations. “The government has been unable to implement an effective and fair policy” to settle the conflict and militarization could cause “an escalation of violence”, denounced to AFP political scientist Lucia Dammert, of the University of Santiago. The governor of Araucania, Luciano Rivas, member of the ruling party, said he supported the measure, citing “a very deep security crisis” in his region.
The demands of the Mapuche, many of whom live in poverty, began to emerge in public debate at the end of the dictatorship (1973-1990). They gained strength after the wave of social protest that shook Chile at the end of 2019. The Constituent Assembly, set up in June, is chaired by a Mapuche scholar and 17 of its 155 members are representatives of the ten indigenous peoples of the country. Chile. But some Mapuche leaders doubt that the new constitution will meet their demands for land restitution and self-determination.
In the 16th century, the Mapuche resisted the expansion of the Spaniards. In 1870, they were subdued by the Chilean army, which began to install settlers on their land. Biobio and Araucania are fertile regions of more than 55,000 km2 where 2.7 million people live.