Land Purchase, Expropriation, or Territorial Control? The Territory should not be Bought, it should be Reclaimed!

llaitulBy Hector Llaitul

There are segments in the Mapuche movement that emphasize the importance of reclaiming the land, independently of how these lands come back into our hands. The CAM has never abided by this logic, and is the reason why our organization has taken a step aside whenever leaders begin to negotiate lands through institutional means.

The various experiences in territorial reclamation show us that there are different ways to go about the struggle, and when interventionism begins, petty interests, conflicts and divisions also come about. In this context, those of us who oppose negotiations and continue pushing the line of Territorial Control are no longer welcome in some circles.

All Mapuche agree on the idea of land reclamation; unfortunately, we are divided at the moment of defining how the reclamation of usurped territory comes about, most importantly, the objective behind said reclamations. Therefore, the Mapuche organizations and leaders that participate in these processes should be held accountable for their outcomes.

The CAM has always had the strategic objective of National Liberation, and therefore, we have never agreed on using negotiations for the reclamation of land through institutional means. Much less within the framework of neoliberal governance that only safeguards private interests and that of the system.

We should reflect and debate over these diverse forms to come about a solution for the Mapuche People, now that the relation between the Chilean State and the Mapuche Nations has become increasingly polarized due to the territorial conflict. Up till now, these solutions have fallen in the framework of the neoliberal model, which demonstrates that the Chilean State does not have real political will to deal with the territorial demand of the Mapuche People, as a Nation. Instead it leaves these demands at the whim of the market economy.

This lack of political will has only led to partial solutions, many of which have led to more divisive conflict between our very communities. To demonstrate, here are the following examples:

  • Land claims petition through the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (CONADI), without previous conflict. The reality faced by most communities is that this process takes years at a time. The land is generally bought in other places than the ones petitioned, which produces uprooting from the original territory.
  • Land is bought from a territory, within a community in conflict with the State and is then given to a “peaceful” community or vis versa, generating conflict between different communities.
  • Territorial occupation that takes place solely to be used as an instrument to pressure for an institutional solution. There is no intension for carrying out Territorial Control, just the purchase of lands.
  • Productive reclamations and/or land under territorial control that is later arbitrated through politicians, the cooptation of leaders, companies, or government representatives in order to force negotiations or the purchase of lands. It is the result of most of the emblematic conflicts. It should be noted that in all these cases, the communities must be organized under the Indigenous Law, similar to a neighbourhood collective in order to purchase the lands, which promotes the individualization of the land in question. It is in this way that because of personal or political reasons, the community is then divided into two or three more segments, excluding other families that were part of the reclamation process.

Together with all of the previously mentioned, it is important to note the many communities that do exert Territorial Control and have not been co-opted to date through the negotiations process and are the exception to the rule, including: Ruka Ñanco and Contulmo (approx. 10 years); Puntilla de Tanquepe and & Choque (approx. 8 years); El Canelo and Las Huellas (approx. 6 years) [among others].

Solutions to the Mapuche Indigenous Land Conflict

  1. The Institutional Route


Currently there are two institutional routes for the redistribution or return of lands on behalf of the State: the Expropriation or Lands based on a legislative or political solution, and the purchase of lands based on the market economy.


Reformist Solution: The Expropriation of Lands


The biggest expropriation carried out in Chile was during the Agrarian Reform. The first law was Number 15,020 of 1962, under the government of Jorge Alessandri and the second, Number 16,640 in 1967 under the government of Eduardo Frei Montalva. The process was carried out in the context of an uprising popular movement and the New Latin American Left during the Cold War, at which time the US was at first forced to support and promote the reformist governments subscribed under the Alliance for Progress. In the case of Chile, economic and political funding was given primarily to Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva. Later on, between the years 1970 and 1973, the expropriation process accelerated abruptly during the Salvador Allende government, due to the pressure made by the organized peasantry. Close to 4,400 agricultural estates were expropriated during this time, adding to more than 6.4 million hectares. In the Araucania Region, 574 estates were expropriated, which equalled  636 thousand hectares of land; of these 574 estates, 138 estates (approximately 132 thousand hectares) were handed to the Mapuche.


The policies of expropriation in this first context were within the context of a State decision that sought out reparation and justice at the time, albeit reformist. As well, the historic demands of the peasantry, as a response to the high levels of poverty, migration to the city and large quantity of land that was considered then to be unproductive for the country were also factor in the development of these policies.

Neoliberal Solution: Land Purchases through the CONADI


We have to consider firstly that the current policy for the purchase of land by the Chilean State is given within the context of the imposing Capitalist system and its continuity on our territory. This imposition is initiated with the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and his support of the Angelini and Matte private interest groups. State policies, such as the Forestry Model is developed through Law 701 of 1974, which subsidizes 75% of the cost of pine plantation, management and administration.


These policies are continued in the Democratic era, through the governments of La Concertación and the Alliance. At the same time the policies developed for the return of lands through Indigenous Law 19,253 (which passed through Congress on September 28th, 1993), continue to uphold the interests of large private forestry companies, and with it Capitalism.


Moreover, these policies aid in deviating the objective of Mapuche communities to reclaiming their ancient territory, usurped by estate lords, and then passed onto the hands of Forestry companies. Thus allowing for the purchase and return of lands outside the areas of conflict and/or focusing exclusively on private estates (agriculturalists).


foto_0000000520121014205322The above allows us to conclude that the governments in turn have facilitated and privileged the resolution of conflicts through the purchase of agricultural estates, while defending the forestry companies that are the economic base of the Capitalist Chilean State.


Unto this situation, the position of the CAM has always been clear. It is due to our Anti-Capitalist position that our objective has been and will be firstly be the relinquishment of the Forestry Companies, as well as Hydroelectric or Mining investments. The conflict against the agriculturalists, descendants of settlers, in the case of some communities are also to made note of when dealing with large extensions of land that were part of our ancient territory.


Nonetheless, we are emphatically against conflict with small scale farmers and peasants, since they are not strategic objectives for the territorial and political reconstruction of our People. On the contrary, conflicts that are generated with farmers only fuel the mass media bias against our Mapuche People, taking support and sympathy away from our just demands.


It is in this way the current policy for the purchase of lands through the CONADI is carried out with a Neo-liberal framework. That is to say, it is managed through the market system, which only seeks the safeguard and promotion of Capitalist investment in the territory. Therefore, any economic transaction that is made will be capitalized upon and will never be in favour of our People. Every process that involves a purchase of land allows for the victory of the system itself, and in particular, for the agriculturalist or forestry company that after years of occupation on Mapuche lands are compensated with thousands of dollars so they can keep investing.


This is why it is extremely important to analyse how the Capitalist system projects itself on Wallmapu, in comparison with territorial demands of our People. Especially now that this government is set to promote a Bill that seeks to incentivize investment in the Forestry industry, duplicating the number of pine and eucalyptus plantations through an amendment to Law 701.


According to the [Chilean] National Forestry Corporation (CONAF): “Those that will benefit directly will be indigenous communities in the Region, which in many cases have received land through the CONADI that had been used as a plantation by previous owners, and will now have the chance plant on their own with State subsidies.” Together with the previous information, the policy of land purchase, based in the Indigenous Law, promotes the subdivision of the already reduced reservations in “Mapuche neighbourhood  assemblies,” or so-called “communities by this Law.


As an example, we can look at the situation of the El Canelo estate (owned by Volterra) in Arauco, wherein due to the negotiations process, the estate will be given to seven “Mapuche neighbourhood  assemblies,”  due to the subdivision of various reservations (Ranquilhue, Choque, Miquihue, El Malo) through the destruction of the ancient community. The same could happen in the Puntilla de Tranaquepe estate, owned by Mininco Forestry Inc.


The return of the El Canelo estate will be most likely viewed by Mapuche institutional leaders as a great victory. They, along with Volterra Inc and the government, will be placing a tombstone on the notion of Territorial Control, carried out for years by the families of Choque and Miquihue, who independently carried out a unitary process supported by the CAM until now.


This process is a failure for our organization, since it represents a neoliberal escape to the struggle. Firstly, by selling the land to a “Mapuche neighbourhood assembly,” it legitimizes assimilation and integration, because it does not represent the ancient organization of our people. Secondly, Volterra Forestry Incorporate will leave with their hand full; and thirdly, interventionism will come after the return of the estate, most likely through Law 701.


That is to say, Law 701 will no longer just subsidize the large Forestry companies usurping the territory, but the very “communities” that have taken part in these negotiations. Through “the communities’” own plantation of foreign pine and eucalyptus, the Forestry Industry will reincorporate the land that had been previously under Territorial Control, and thus continue to have power over these plantations. From our point of view, this constitutes as a real collusion between the Chilean State and the Forestry Industry, whose only strategic objective is that teh El Canelo estate continue to serve the purposes of Capitalism.


Beforehand there existed three major emblematic land claims conflicts against a tourist business elite and agriculturalists that were forced into this solution: The Osvaldo Carvajal estate in Lleu Lleu , Urban in Ercilla and Luchsinger in Vilcun. It is a very serious matter to have conflicts against Forestry companies end this way, especially considering that these are the main sustainers of the Capitalist system in Wallmapu.


  1. The Autonomous Route, by the Mapuche People for National Liberation: Territorial Control


If the territory is the material base for our existence as a People, at the same time, Territorial Control is its political, social and cultural exercise for our projection as such.


zanja en fundo la romana 057.jpgIt is in this way that the reclamation of our territory and the exercise of Territorial Control are related and intertwined. If the objective is the liberation of our Nation, said process must be autonomous, and not under the whim of the Chilean State, and much less the market. That is to say, it implies the real liberation of all forms of oppression, whether it is economic, political or ideological, which are imposed by negotiations and land purchase process. The reclamation of the ancient territory represents the reconstruction of our People, the development of our people as a political subject, and not as the object of State policies whose only purpose is integration and domestication.


Therefore, the objective of Territorial Reclamation is the liberation of the territory from the Capitalist market, and subsequently is also the liberation of ourselves as a People. This forces us transform said territorial space and the reconstruction of our own ways and practices; advancing from the reservation to our traditional Lov and Ayllarewe, to politically recreate our territorial identities as the base of the Mapuche Nation. That is to say, it is not just about reclaiming a physical space, but to transform it through Territorial Control.


The current Indigenous Law and the purchase land policy constitute an inverse process, which completely destroys our world and our organization. It is more destructive than the formation of the reservation through Treaty title; we are talking about the complete individualization of our People through the purchase of land to “Mapuche Neighbourhood Assemblies.” Unfortunately, the Capitalist logic of private property is propelled by some, and hurries us into negotiations, into purchases and signing papers; that is, more submission.


rucananco lleu-lleuTerritorial Control, on the other hand is a slow and paced process that requires patience and sacrifice. It can be initiated with actions of resistance, such as the sabotage of forestry equipment and the expulsion of police forces (such as the cases of El Guairao, Las Huellas, etc.). It is continued with productive reclamation, that is, with harvest, the construction of traditional houses, the demarcation of guillatwe and paliwe, planting traditional medicines like rewe and guillatun. Finally, it is organized self-defense that allows the reconstruction to advance and maintain itself in Territorial Control.

It is due to all of this that a call to the communities becomes imperative, to continue the experiences of Territorial Control and stop the negotiations that seek our consolidation to the dominant economic system. It is necessary to generate more debate to stop corrupt and opportunist leadership that act like political agents of government and of the Capitalist system.

Wichan Info al Dia

Distributed by: The Women’s Coordinating Committee for a Free Wallmapu [Toronto]

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