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CHILE
Indigenous peoples view government with deep distrust
Rocío Alorda*
6/14/2013
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Indigenous leaders denounce lack of political will of authorities to implement rights guaranteed by international conventions.

In his last state-of-the-nation message on May 21 in Valparaíso, President Sebastián Piñera dedicated less than three minutes to the indigenous peoples. In those few minutes, the president stressed the government´s progress in this area, specifically the "new deal" in relation to the indigenous peoples.

 “When we assumed the government [in March 2010], we initiated a new deal with our indigenous peoples, based on four pillars. First, a constitutional reform that recognizes various ethnic entities existing within the same nation and territory. Second, replacing the strategy of assimilation with true integration, which requires a new and agreed upon consultation mechanism, as well as the creation of an indigenous peoples’ council. Third, stimulating their economic and social development in order to reduce existing gaps. And fourth, recognition, appreciation and promotion of their history, culture, traditions and language,” Piñera pointed out.

The brief presidential words were no surprise to indigenous representatives. In fact, the day before, Aucán Huilcamán — president of the indigenous organization Council of All Lands — handed the government a document addressed to the president with demands that were not reflected in the discourse of  Piñera. Within the priority points listed in the document were the rectification of the Araucanía-Council of Indigenous Peoples Bill and the demand for a dialogue in good faith, as a key to reaching an agreement in the Araucanía, a territory affected by conflicts.

Huilcamán’s demands came in response to the proposal raised by the government in January 2013, when three bills were sent to Congress that will create a regional development plan, a Council of Indigenous Peoples as well as consultation mechanisms, as required by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and in force since September 2009. According to Huilcamán, these measures, decided on unilaterally by the government, are not in the best interest of indigenous communities.

Arturo Coña Pirul, leader of the Assembly of the Left-Wing Mapuches, described the presidential discourse as an old speech that does not represent the interests of indigenous peoples, because issues such as the exercise of citizenship, indigenous consultation process and decision-making on energy projects were missing.

“There is a complicit silence of parliamentarians who see indigenous issues as a threat to ‘the model interests’ that only benefit them, in matters of lobby of multinational [companies] and they forget the implementation of an international agreement such as ILO’s [convention]169 on indigenous and tribal peoples,”  claimed Coña Pirul.

Viviana Catrileo, director of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile (ANAMURI), agrees with Coña Pirul that the recognition given to indigenous peoples in the past four years "does not have great value because it does not address all the demands in order to ensure the existence of a community with economic, political and cultural rights, since such a community should take control of their self-determination, their way of living and be legislated under cultural patterns with a structure of self-organization.”


Lack of political will
The absence of real commitments in relation to native peoples expressed in Piñera’s last speech indicates lack of political will to resume parliamentary debate about a constitutional reform that would point the way towards the recognition of indigenous cultures. The outstanding claims include, among other, the resolution of territorial conflicts in Araucanía, freedom for Mapuche political prisoners, the repeal of the 1985 anti-terrorism law, the application of Convention 169 and the repeal of Supreme Decree 124 which limits indigenous consultation in Chile.

"We know that the executive initiatives in various governments go through a political decision that has not resolved the identification of demand, of productive dialogue and of the implementation of valid representatives, for a new relationship between the state and indigenous peoples, that the entrepreneurship and multinational companies have identified as an opportunity, profitably taking possession in projects implemented in Araucanía," says Coña Pirul.

The institutional framework that rules over the indigenous world in Chile is the National Indigenous Development Corporation (CONADI) that was established in 1994 as the main government body responsible for the implementation of public policies towards indigenous peoples. It is legislated through Indigenous Law 19.253, enacted a year earlier. Despite specifically targeted policies, the trend of mobilization and installation of indigenous demands in public consciousness demonstrate their ineffectiveness in addressing the real needs of indigenous peoples.

According to Coña Pirul, CONADI does not represent the interests of indigenous peoples in the economic, political, and cultural matters, because its statutes limit their political power regarding budget, public policies, participation and development of indigenous lands, among other things. In line with law 19.253, CONADI establishes standards for protection, promotion and development of indigenous peoples, recognizing nine ethnic groups and in matter of elections of their "representative advisors" that are not regulated by the Electoral Service.

"One example is the urban indigenous representative who, in the absence of public summons mechanisms or censorship, participates by leading a consensus table, assuming representation that he has no right to in the name of a minority political collective and mortgaging the interests of all indigenous peoples,” said Coña Pirul.


Obsolete measures
Coña Pirul believes that today CONADI is an obsolete body and, like the Indigenous Law, requires an urgent reform, so that it represents all of  the people in rural and urban settings.

An effective implementation of  ILO’s Convention 169 and of the consultation rule by the present government faces a complex judicial and legislative situation, explains Sergio Millamán, broadcaster and member of the non-governmental Group Working for the Collective Rights. He notes that since 2009 to date Congress has violated the obligation to free and informed prior consultation.

"Indigenous peoples have not been consulted on any bill that affects them directly, as the case should be in a country that respects its international commitments in regards to human rights," said Millamán.

According to Millamán, the state barely begins to take on the duty of consultation, but quickly looks for ways to avoid it.

“The government and Parliament arbitrarily define what is of interest or directly involves indigenous peoples, based on an unconsulted decree and an obsolete law, both of a status inferior to that of ILO’s Convention 169. The judiciary is not far behind and begins to lay the jurisprudence on the duty to consult, but also limits it to public participation in the environmental assessment system, without questioning the existing limitations in environmental institutionalism,” points Millamán.

The shortcomings of the indigenous institutionalism and state’s unfulfilled demands generate strong distrust towards public policies and their regulation, according to the leader of ANAMURI, who concludes that the  “fulfillment and respect for indigenous rights are violated in Chile. The guarantee of respect for indigenous peoples is not part of public policies as these do not consider cultural differences, which for native peoples is closely connected to land rights and the rights to remain in them freely.”
—Latinamerica Press


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Indigenous peoples call for constitutional reform that would guarantee full recognition of native cultures. (Photo: Nicolás González)
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