26 January 2006 Edition

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Interview - Juana Calfunao, leader among Chile's indigenous Mapuche people

Juana Calfunao

Juana Calfunao

Chile's so-called "friendly transition" from the bloody dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet to the democratic government of the Concertación Coalition including socialists, social democrats and Christian democrats, has seen allegations persist that those who suffered most under Pinochet are still being victimised by politicians afraid to upset the military or the rich.

Left critics say the recent election of Michelle Bachelet, Chile's first woman president and herself a victim of torture, is not indicative of change and that Bachelet, who served as Minister under the previous Lagos government, will pursue similar policies.

One of the groups that have suffered and continues to suffer discrimination and repression is the Mapuche Nation.

At the end of last year, Juana Calfunao, traditional leader of the Mapuche community of Juan Paillalef, Chile, travelled Europe to highlight the plight of her community, embroiled in a dispute with the Public Works Department of the Chilean Government over the expropriation of their land to build a private road.

Today, she is in Temuco's Jail awaiting trial, and on hunger strike. She is due to appear in court on 13 February 2006 to answer charges in relation to her leadership in the Mapuche struggle.

While in Ireland last December she spoke to An Phoblacht.

An Phoblacht: What does it mean to be a lonko?

Juana Calfunao: As a lonko the responsibility has fallen on me of defending my community, my people, and to get involved in the world of the Mapuche Nation, where all the lonkos gather to take decisions. One of these is to denounce the Chilean Government and all decisions it has taken over our lands without consultation. One of the presidential candidates, Sebastián Piñera, (who lost the second round to Bachelet) bought virtually the entire ancestral island of Chiloe with the Mapuches leaving the area included as part of the deal.

That is the reason why I as a lonko, human rights activist and founding member of the ethical commission against torture — have attracted some bad press from the government. In its desire to silence me, I have been beaten several times. In the year 2000 when, police beat me when I was pregnant and I lost the baby. They've broken my arms. I had my cheekbone broken. My hand was broken. But all that is part of the struggle.

Now I have reached several countries in Europe to say to the European Union, to the World Bank and the citizens of Europe that they must be conscious of their responsibility in the plundering of our wealth and of natural resources. These rich governments have a duty to keep a close eye on our problems because it is their fault that we are being murdered. We are the human wall that defends the nature which allows them to breath, but because of greed, of wealth that they want to own, they are killing us and robbing us of the most essential element, the land, the right to live, to exist, the cultural development. They have an unpaid debt with us, a political and social debt. Our communities are being dismembered. Over 100 people are in jail for claiming our rights and the restitution of our lands and communities. The introduction of transnationals in our territory is provoking new confrontations. And now, we have to add the arrival of paramilitarism. The richest sections of society are arming themselves and they are shooting to kill us, to defend their wealth.

Has there been any change with the end of the dictatorship and the establishment of the democracy in Chile?

The constitution of 1980 has never been changed. I think this is because they find it useful. For the Mapuche Nation there is always going to be dictatorship. Today in Chile there is still a dictatorship but it is hidden. They are still enforcing the constitution to steal our land and to those who do not think as "Chileans", they are being dealt using anti-terror laws approved by Pinochet.

What do you mean by 'thinking like Chileans'?

I mean to think like westerners — that the land has to be dismembered, destroyed, polluted. That is the way societies in the West think. That the land has to be asphalted to achieve progress. That it has to be full of pylons, because it will provide electricity. But from our point of view all that they see as technology is the destruction of humanity, of the land, of the ecosystems, of nature.

So it is an attack against nature and against the Mapuche, because we the Mapuche are nature, the walking voice. We are the river, the rain, the wind, the tree, the land that cannot speak. It goes through the Mapuches. That is why we call ourselves Mapu-che: the people of the land. We are the life-long defenders of human rights.

"Nowadays there are in Chilt, applying the law.

What about the future? Have you any support in Chile?

The Mapuche Nation has always managed to develop their own strategies for struggle. My opinion is that the next confrontations are going to be hard, because the state is signing a series of agreements leading to the robbery and destruction of our land and to the commercialisation of all our cultural patrimony.

"We are designing ways of defending ourselves against the attacks, and soon we are going to start defending ourselves against those big transnationals that invest in our lands. I personally, and as a lonko, would suggest they save their money, because the deals might not be as lucrative as they expect. Their money will not make more money in our land. They need to remember that is our land and they have not negotiated with the Mapuche, they have done so with the Chilean state. They must remember that from the BioBio to Chiloé, is Mapuche land and that we, Mapuche, are going to protect it. We resisted the Spanish during 300 years and we will have no problem in doing the same with the transnationals.

The centre-left government does not seem to be opening ways towards dialogue with the Mapuche. Do you envisages a change of attitude?

We do not expect anything from anyone — left, extreme left, the government of the moment or any other — because we see them as patronising or dictators. Even those who do no present themselves as dictators have a hidden dictatorship agenda against the indigenous. We are saying no more ideologies, no more domination, no more looting. We are entitled to the restitution of our land and the right of self-determination.


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