President-elect Michelle Bachelet –who assumes the presidency next Tuesday, March 11– should addressher campaign promiseto reform the Chilean government’s treatment of the Mapuches.
This past February 28, a Chilean court sentenced a Mapuche to 18 years in prison for his role in a couple’s murder in early 2013. This decision will likely increase tensions between the government in Santiago and the country’s sizeable indigenous group.
The Mapuches are an ethnic group that live mostly in Chile’s southern regions of Araucania and Bio Bio, and populate aroundone and a half million.
They have historically been treated as second-class citizens. The Augusto Pinochet dictatorship persecuted Mapuches who were members of the violent left-wing movement Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria.
In recent years their grievances and protests have centered on land rights and ownership. Santiago and private companies have exploited Mapuche land for natural resources without requesting permission from local communities. One such example was the construction of ahydropower dam called Ralcoin Alto Bio Bio.
The prosecutor had called for life without parole but the judge opted for a much smaller sentence. The Associated Press reports that the court’s ruling was “a blow to the government of outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, which investigated the killing using an anti-terror law dating back to Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.”
Reuters’ Alexandra Ulmersummarizes the polarized points of Mapuche communities stating, “Some Mapuche advocate violence as a means to recoup land, arguing the government is illegitimate and that their claims will never make headway in courts or the political arena. Many others in polarized Araucania want peace and argue that century-old wrongs should be put to rest.”
The outgoing Sebastian Pinera presidency has generally opted for a crackdown on Mapuche protests by resorting to the Chilean carabineros, the country’s gendarmerie.
In fact, General Ivan Bezmalinovic, chief of the carabineros in Temuco region, where a lot of Mapuches live, has requested that the government purchase armored vehicles. The high-level security officer explains that these vehicles will protect the carabineros from protesters who are using guns and incendiary bombs.
There have also been significant allegations by the Chilean government. In early January 2013, theMinister of the Presidency, Cristian Larroulet, declared that Mapuches carrying out arson attacks at the time “had links with the [Colombian narco-insurgent movement] FARC.”
The minister also argued “we are in the presence of terrorism, that kills people, that has no mercy, and in order to accomplish its goals, it burns, kills people.”
This is not the first time that there have been allegations of a linkage between theFARCand Mapuches.
In 2010, the office of the Attorney General of Colombia provided Chile with a 200-page report that explains the links, including training, between the narco-insurgents and Mapuche extremists.
This author does not have enough information to confirm or deny the links between the FARC and Mapuches. (The security news agencyInSight Crimehas also analyzed these allegations). While there may be some truth to them, it cannot be denied that this argument also serves as justification for the Chilean government to apply anti-terrorism laws on Mapuches, and serves as an excuse for certain repressive initiatives.
What to expect from Bachelet?
As previously mentioned, during her presidential reelection campaign, President Bachelet promised a new treatment of Chile’s Mapuche population. InOctober 2013she stated, “I believe that with the Mapuche people we need a new deal [… ] I’ve said that it was an error to apply the anti-terrorism law on Mapuche communities [during her 2006-2010 presidency].”
The president-elect will once again assume control of the South American nation this upcoming March 11. U.S.vice president Joe Biden is expected to be in attendance.
She certainly will have a lot on her plate, including dealing with the fallout of a maritime border dispute with Peru, the situation in Venezuela as well as Chile’s domestic affairs.
Nevertheless, Mapuches have for too long been treated as second-class citizens in Chile, and their demands should be properly heard and addressed. This does not mean that Chile’s police and judiciary should not persecute Mapuches who have committed violent acts, but should rather lead to a “new deal,” to use Bachelet’s parlance, in the Santiago-Mapuche relationship.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa is reconsidering his decision on running for a new presidential term. This comes a week after his political party, Alianza País, suffered defeats in the country’s municipal elections.
Correa and his party, which has a majority in Congress, seem to have decided in favor of a constitutional reform allowing Correa to run – it is widely expected that a motion will be presented in the very near future to eliminate term limits for the president.Gabriela Rivadeneira, president of Ecuador’s congress, has already declared that Alianza País “is discussing and will propose . . . an amendment to the constitution . . . to allow for re-election.”
Correa was first elected inDecember 2006, and he assumed the presidency on January 15, 2007. His four-year presidential term was supposed to end on January 2011, but his popularity among the citizenry allowed for a new constitution to be passed in 2008 – Ecuadorians approved the new constitution with a64% support. In April 2009,the country had elections againto have a new president and congress under the new constitution. Correa was easily re-elected with52% of the vote, while his closest competitor, former president Lucio Gutierrez, came in second with only 28%.
Ecuador essentially went through a “reset” of the presidency: Correa’s presidential term which began in 2009 counts as his first term because of the new constitution, even though he had already ruled for two years before the “reset.” InFebruary 2013, Correaran again (his first re-election after the new constitution), and easily beat his competitors in the first round with 57% of the vote. Moreover, Correa’s partyAlianza Pais won 100 seatsof the country’s 137-seat National Assembly.
It is important to highlight that until that point,article 144of Ecuador’s 2008 constitution mandates that a head of state can only run for one presidential term. Moreover, in 2013,Correa himselfdeclared that he was not interested in running again, so his presidency would have ended in 2017.
The situation changed on February 23 when Ecuador’s municipal elections gave significant victories to opposition parties. Namely, opposition candidates won in the capitalQuito as well as Cuenca, and also maintained the control of the country’s second-largest major urban area, Guayaquil.
Speaking about his party’s loss,Correadeclared that “what’s happening in Quito is painful and dangerous; I hope I’m wrong.” He also tried to spin the situation explaining that this was a lesson and that he and his party could be “falling sleeping on their laurels.” On the other hand, Ecuadorian analysts highlighted that the municipal elections showed that “Correa is not invincible.”
A week later, on Saturday, March 1, Correa took his party’s loss one step further, as he declared that he was re-assessing his original statement to not run again: “we will not let the international right to take over the government.” He poetically added that he would not allow for “dark skies in the horizon of the Revolutionary Citizenry.”
Correa himself remains vastly popular among the Ecuadorian citizenry and, barring an economic meltdowna laVenezuela, it is safe to say that he will be re-elected in 2017 if the constitutional reform succeeds. But whether it is healthy for a popular leader, in Ecuador or elsewhere, to perpetuate himself (or herself) in power remains highly debatable.
In an interview with the Ecuadorian state-run news agency Andes,congressman Fabian Solanoargued that the goal of the amendment is not to maintain a single person in power but rather “to maintain a leadership to consolidate a political project towards a healthy socialism”.He also added“socialists have to be the echo of the people and if the homeland needs him I think that President Correa will listen to the people.”
Correa’s current popularity means that most Ecuadorians would likely vote for him in 2017. That means he will have ruled the country for over 14 years (if he steps down from power in 2021), since his original victory in 2006 — a long time for anyone to be a head of state, especially in Latin America, which has a problematic regional history with leaders who perpetuate themselves in power.
Here’s hoping Correa will be the exception to the rule.