A young Mapuche speaks up for her people

By Alberto Dufey
6 Dec 2010

Natividad Llanquileo is a young woman from the Mapuche people, an indigenous group that makes up some four per cent of the Chilean population.

In late November, she visited Geneva – seat of the United Nations Human Rights Council and other UN bodies – to inform the international organisations about the ongoing negotiations between the representatives of the Mapuche political prisoners and the Chilean government.

Llanquileo is a member of the Puerto Choque community in Arauco province. She is only 26 years old and represents the next generation of the “diplomats” of the Mapuche people to the international organisations. She is also the youngest representative of the Mapuche prisoners in Concepción.

“My main aim with the international organisations in Geneva has been to make contact with observers who could help in the legal proceedings against the political prisoners whom the legal authorities in Chile have accused of terrorism,” Llanquileo said during a press conference on 26 November 2010.

The information session and press conference were held at Geneva's Ecumenical Centre, seat of the World Council of Churches (WCC) secretariat, on an invitation of the WCC Indigenous Peoples Programme and the Coordinating Group of Genevan Organisations supporting the Mapuche Prisoners on Hunger Strike.

A hunger strike by Mapuche political prisoners which lasted from August to October failed to achieve their purposes as the attention of the national and international public was focused on the rescue efforts for 33 miners trapped below the Chilean desert and on the 200th anniversary of the country.

Despite this situation, the Mapuche people managed to strengthen their local organisations and to denounce internationally the criminalisation that their struggles for land and cultural rights are facing.

The process of dialogue with the Chilean government, which the Mapuche started after the end of the hunger strike, received the support of various church organisations, including the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and the WCC. The Methodist Mapuche pastor Hugo Marillan has been accompanying the negotiations on behalf of CLAI and WCC.

Llanquileo has played an important role in these negotiations, acting as a mouthpiece for the Mapuche political prisoners. At the press conference she recognised the important role of the churches and asked for their support through the introduction of international observers in denouncing the criminalisation of the Mapuche struggles.

According to Llanquileo, the observers can gain a better overall view of the situation, as they receive information from all parties. They can thus perceive the contradictions of the prosecutors, the illegality in the presentation of the cases against the Mapuche prisoners, in having anonymous witnesses and other irregularities and forms of discrimination. “We cannot accept this continuing criminalisation of the Mapuche people,” she said.

A further aim of her visit has been to gain information on how international mechanisms function, “in particular the agreements concerning us that governments ratify but do not apply,” she declared.

“For example, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples has made several reports recommending that the anti-terrorism law should not be applied to the Mapuche people. The government’s response to the international forums is that it will do so, but in practice it does not implement the recommendations. The same has happened with the ILO agreement 169 which recognises the Mapuche as a people having a right to their land and its resources, but it too, is not put into practice.”

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(c) Alberto Dufey is a Chilean journalist. This article is condensed and translated from the original Spanish on the news portal site Swisslatin: http://www.swisslatin.ch/latino-1019.htm

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