Mapuche conflict

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De facto Chilean territory and Mapuche groups in Araucanía in 1860 prior to the occupation of Araucanía.

The Mapuche conflict (Spanish: conflicto mapuche) involves indigenous Mapuche communities located in Araucanía and nearby regions of Chile and Argentina. It is often referred to as a conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean government or state. Big forestry companies[1] and their contractors, Chilean police and some non-indigenous landowners have been confronted by militant Mapuche organizations and local Mapuche communities in the context of the conflict. The conflict has been classified as an indigenous self-determination conflict.[2]

Mapuche activists demand greater autonomy, recognition of rights, and the return of historical lands. The Mapuche conflict intensified following the return of democracy in the 1990s, with Mapuche activists seeking to rectify the loss of ancestral territory during the Occupation of the Araucanía and the Conquest of the Desert.[3] The Mapuche lack a central organization and individuals and communities carry out their struggle independently and by different means. Some groups, such as the Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), have used violent tactics since 1998, while other groups have preferred non-violent tactics and institutional negotiations.[2][4] Violent activists have been scrutinized for their finances and international links, with some being accused of large-scale theft of wood, either by performing the theft themselves or taking possession of stolen wood.[5] Others have been linked to drug trafficking.[5][6] Personnel of Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco has been in Venezuela meeting high-ranking officials of the Nicolás Maduro government,[7] and there are claims of training with FARC guerrillas in Colombia.[8]

The handling of the conflict by Chilean authorities has been the subject of controversy and political debate. The label of "terrorism" by authorities have been controversial as well as the killing of unarmed Mapuches by police followed by failed cover-ups. Another point of contest is the "militarization of Araucanía", yet the use of military-grade long gun against police vehicles has been cited as explaining the need for armoured vehicles. There are recurrent claims of Mapuche "political prisoners".

The conflict has received the attention of international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, which have criticized the Chilean government's treatment of the Mapuche.[9] Many activists have been killed.[10] Mapuche police and Mapuche contractors have also been killed by violent activists.[11][12][13] Recently, the MACEDA database has compiled more than 2,600 events related to this conflict (1990-2016).


Wenufoye, a flag widely used by the Mapuche people in Chile.

The conflict has its historical roots in the occupation of Araucania by the Chilean Army in the late 19th century. After 1881 the land was divided into plots and distributed mostly among private owners (including foreign and Chilean settlers as well as members of the army). The Mapuche (around 100,000 persons according to the 1907 Census) were confined to almost 3,000 atomized reservations named titulos de merced.[14][15] Since the 1960s, many Mapuche were actively involved in the Chilean land reform. More than 150,000 hectares of land were transferred to the communities, but most of this land was later taken back during the counter-agrarian reform process implemented during the military dictatorship (1973–1990).[16][17] From the 1980s onward, large swathes of southern Chile became integrated into the country's export economy, forming what has been described as an enclave economy.[18] The central component of this is the forestry sector, with several plantations in plots that were originally part of the land reform and others in plots claimed by communities.[18][19]

The Mapuche conflict surfaced in the 1990s following the return of democracy.[3] The conflict started in areas inhabited mostly by Mapuches like the vicinities of Purén, where some indigenous communities have been demanding that certain lands they claim for their own but which are now the property of logging and farming companies and individuals be turned over to them.[20][21] Several Mapuche organizations are demanding the right of self-recognition in the quality of Indigenous peoples, as recognized under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The official 2002 Chilean census found 609,000 Chileans identifying as Mapuches.[22] The same survey determined that 35 percent of the nation's Mapuches think the biggest issue for the government to resolve relates to their ancestral properties.[22] The official 2012 Chilean census found the number of Mapuches in Chile to be 1,508,722[23] and the 2017 census a total of 1,745,147, representing around 10% of the population.

Some scholars and studies have found correlations and proposed links with centuries-old events. A 2021 study found that the geographical distribution of incidents correlated better with archaeological sites than with forest plantations, schools or Mapuche communities.[24] Historian José Bengoa has likened the Mapuche conflict to the Catalan struggle taking note that both conflicts were major concerns for the 17th century Spanish Empire and remain unresolved to the day.[25] More generally, it is possible to classify this as an indigenous self-determination conflict.[2]


One of the first organizations claiming self-determination in the early 1990s was the Consejo de Todas las Tierras (CTT), which coordinated a new wave of, mostly pacific, plot occupations and started using the Wenufoye Mapuche flag. The conflict became more violent around 1998, with the first arson attacks in Lumaco and the creation of the more radical Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM) group.[26][2]

1996–2004: Ralco controversy[edit]

The building of the Ralco Hydroelectric Plant, Chile's largest hydroelectric power plant, in the 1990s was highly controversial among Mapuches and pro-Mapuche groups because its reservoir would flood sacred land including one Mapuche cemetery. After compensations were paid the plant was eventually finished in 2004.[27] In December of 2016, the body of Nicolasa Quintreman, a 73 year old Mapuche leader who had opposed plant construction, was found floating in the reservoir.[28]

2009 incidents[edit]

Demonstration in Santiago, after the killing of two Mapuche activists.

Numerous incidents such as violent land occupations, burning of private property and demonstrations have occurred in Araucania. In the wake of the deaths of a few of its activists, Mapuche organization Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco played a key role by organizing and supporting violent land occupations and other direct actions, such as the burning of houses and farms, that have ended up in clashes with the police.

The government of Michelle Bachelet said that it was not ready to contemplate expropriating land in the southern region of Araucania to restore lost ancestral territory to the Mapuche.[29] The government set out to buy land for use by 115 Mapuche communities, however, according to government officials, the current owners had nearly tripled the prices they were demanding. On the other hand, the effectiveness of the government policy of buying and distributing land has been questioned.[29] Two special presidential envoys were sent to southern Chile to review the increasingly fractious "Mapuche situation".[22]

2010 hunger strike[edit]

Flag of the Mapuche-Tehuelche people created in 1991, a symbol of their claim to some Argentine-Mapuche areas.

Between 2010 and 2011, a series of hunger strikes by Mapuche community members imprisoned in Chilean prisons to protest against the conditions in which the proceedings against them took place, mainly due to the application of the antiterrorist law, and for the double prosecutions they were subject to, because parallel proceedings were carried out in the ordinary and military courts.[citation needed]

The strikes began on 12 July 2010, with a group that was in preventive detention, some for more than one year and a half, all accused of violating anti-terrorism legislation.[30][31]

January 2013 events[edit]

A march was held in commemoration of the death of Matías Catrileo in Santiago in January 2013. During the march a group of masked men attacked banks and threw molotov cocktails. Later the same group caused incidents near Estación Mapocho.[32] The commemoration was associated by newspaper La Tercera with the assault and torching of a truck in Chile Route 5 in Araucanía Region.[33]

In the morning of 4 January 2013 the agricultural business couple Luchsinger-Mackay died in a fire in their house in Vilcún, Araucanía Region.[34][35] The prosecutor said it was arson in a preliminary report and newspaper La Tercera linked it to the commemoration of the death of Matías Catrileo and to the truck burning the previous days.[36] A relative of the dead persons claimed there was a campaign to empty the region of farmers and businessmen adding that "the guerrilla is winning" and lamented the "lack of rule of law".[36] A male activist wounded by a bullet was detained by police 600 m from the torched house.[35] A thesis claims the house was attacked by at least seven persons and that the "machi" had received the bullet wound from the occupants of the house before dying in the fire.[35]

On 30 April a freight train was derailed near Collipulli to be then assaulted by men with firearms.[37][38] Interior minister Andrés Chadwick said the Chilean Antiterrorist Law will be applied to those responsible for the attack.[37]

2016–2022: Upsurge of the conflict[edit]

Since 2016, there has been an increasing number of attacks in the region, especially against churches, machinery, forest industries, and security forces.[39][40] A June 2018 article in the website reported that "military police (GOPE) often intervene violently, on the side of the companies, intimidating the Mapuche communities, acting indiscriminately against women or minors."[4] The Jesuit priest Carlos Bresciani, who has spent 15 years heading the Misión Jesuita Mapuche in Tirúa,[41] said that he doesn't see autonomy coming easily, given the disposition of the Chilean Senate, and that the "underlying problem is how communities participate in decision-making in their own territories".[42][43] Bresciani observed that the violence "reflects that there is an open wound."[44] In January 2018, while saying Mass before thousands at Temuco, "the de facto capital of the Mapuche community", Pope Francis called for an end to the violence,[45] and for solidarity with "those who daily bear the burden of those many injustices".[46] In 2018, Camilo Catrillanca, the grandson of a local Indigenous leader, was shot in the head during a police operation in a rural community near the town of Ercilla. His death triggered nationwide protest leading to seven police officers being convicted in connection with the shooting.[47]

On 20 December 2019, the UN urged Switzerland to stop deportation of Mapuche activist Flor Calfunao to Chile because of concern for her human rights, including the risk of torture.[48]

On 16 June 2021, a police officer was wounded during clashes with suspected indigenous militia groups in the Biobío region. In the same region volunteer firefighters were caught in crossfire between police forces and indigenous militiamen while trying to get to the La Pasión farm to put out a fire.[49]

On 6 July 2021, protest erupted during the opening constitutional session, with citizens demanding an amnesty law for political prisoners who had been arrested during the country's political unrest in 2019.[50]

In late July, fighting was reported between state forces and suspected indigenous militias in the Araucanía and Biobío regions. In the Biobío commune of Tirua, armed men ambushed a police unit, injuring two police officers. Finally, in the Araucanía city of Carahue, militiamen exchanged fire with police officers carrying out a protective order outside the building of a logging company. Two police officers and a worker were injured, before the suspects escaped.[51]

In October, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency and deployed troops to Biobio and Araucania in response to clashes between security forces and Mapuche groups.[52]

On 25 December 2021, the Mapuche organization Lafkenche Mapuche Resistance claimed responsibility for the following sabotage actions in Wallmapu in support of Mapuche political prisoners and fallen fighters:

  • Wednesday November 24: Burning of four trucks for extracting aggregate material from the Trongol river, and a forestry truck belonging to Bosques Arauco, in the Sector Los Rios, Los Alamos.
  • Thursday December 9: Burning of 15 forestry machines, in the Coihue-Yeneco Estate of Forestal Arauco. Lebu.
  • Tuesday December 14: Burning of 15 forestry machines in the El Tesero Estate of Forestal Arauco. Curanilahue.
  • Tuesday December 22: Burning of 31 summer cabins in the Sector Lincuyin. Contulmo.[53]

Anti-terrorism Law[edit]

The Chilean government's usage of the "Anti-Terrorism Law" in the conflict is a focal point of the controversy surrounding the conflict.[54][55] In 2013, the United Nations condemned the use of the Anti-Terrorism Law against Mapuche activists.[56] Amnesty International and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have made similar criticisms.[9]

According to a May 2022 poll by Cadem 76% of Chileans believe there is terrorism in Araucanía Region.[57] This is a rise from the 56% that believed so in 2017.[57] Conversely, Cadem polls show that those who reject the notion that there is terrorism in Araucanía Region decreased from 41% to 19% in the same period.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A journey through Chile’s conflict with Mapuche rebel groups Al Jazeera.
  2. ^ a b c d Cayul, Pedro; Alejandro Corvalan; Dany Jaimovich; Matteo Pazzona (2022). "Introducing MACEDA: New micro-data on an indigenous self-determination conflict". Journal of Peace Research.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b On the conflict before 1990 see Olaf Kaltmeier: Volkseinheit und ethnische Differenz. Mapuche-Bewegung und comunidades während der Regierung Salvador Allende, in:Jahrbuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, Heft III/2003 (German Language).
  4. ^ a b "In Chile, the Mapuche are battling for their land". Equal Times. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  5. ^ a b Labrín, Sebastián (26 September 2020). "Financiando la violencia rural en territorio mapuche". La Tercera (in Spanish). Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  6. ^ Chile, C. N. N. "Operativo antinarcótico en Concepción: Detienen a Emilio Berkhoff, ex líder de la CAM". CNN Chile (in Spanish). Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  7. ^ Rivas, Sebastián (14 December 2018). "Canciller venezolano recibe en Caracas a líder de la CAM Héctor Llaitul". La Tercera. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  8. ^ Carrera, Patricio (19 July 2010). "Ex Farc reconoce a miembros de la CAM y dice que fueron instruidos en Colombia". La Tercera. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Chile: Authorities must stop criminalizing Indigenous Mapuche people under the Anti-Terrorism Law". 5 May 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  10. ^ "Lista de Mapuche Muertos post Dictadura en Relación al Llamado "Conflicto" Mapuche".
  11. ^ Martínez, Brenda (30 October 2020). "Quién era Eugenio Nain, el carabinero que murió baleado en Metrenco". El Dínamo (in Spanish). Retrieved 29 March 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ "Tía de cabo Eugenio Nain: "A él no lo mataron por ser carabinero, lo mataron por ser mapuche"". El Mostrador (in Spanish). 1 November 2020. Retrieved 19 March 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Miranda, Cristian (26 May 2022). "Santo Reinao, sin pelos en la lengua: "Ningún mapuche que quiera retomar su territorio, lo va a hacer encapuchado"". El Mostrador (in Spanish).
  14. ^ Jaimovich; Dany (2018). "The Mapuche lands throughout history". MDP – Documento de Trabajo 4001.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Bengoa, Jose (2000). Historia del Pueblo Mapuche. Siglos XIX y XX. LOM. ISBN 956-28-2232-X.
  16. ^ Martín Correa; Raúl Molina; Nancy Yáñez (2005). LA REFORMA AGRARIA Y LAS TIERRAS MAPUCHES. LOM. ISBN 9562827097.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Jaimovich, Dany; Toledo, Felipe (2021). "The grievances of a failed reform: Chilean land reform and conflict with indigenous communities". Munich Personal RePEc Archive.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ a b Mapuche: resistiendo al capital y al Estado. El caso de la Coordinadora Arauco Malleco en Chile
  19. ^ Felipe Jordán (2021). "The rise of forest plantations in Chile's Mapuche's homeland: Four decades of land cover estimates from a CNN-RNN model and the Landsat program". SSRN.
  20. ^ Baeza, Cecilia. "Palestinians and Latin America's Indigenous Peoples." Middle East Report 274 (Spring 2015).
  21. ^ "Chilean Authorities Investigate New Attack, Land Occupations". Latin American Herald Tribune. Retrieved 28 August 2009.
  22. ^ a b c "CHILE INDIGENOUS CONFLICT MAKES POLITICAL WAVES". Retrieved 28 August 2009.[dead link]
  23. ^ "Censo 2017 – Todos Contamos – Este Censo necesita todo tu apoyo para saber cuántos somos, cómo somos y cómo vivimos". (in European Spanish). Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  24. ^ Plan Araucanía: los errores de la política pública en el conflicto mapuche
  25. ^ Bengoa, José (4 October 2017). "Columna de José Bengoa: Catalanes, Autonomías y Mapuche (s)". The Clinic (in Spanish). Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  26. ^ FERNANDO PAIRICAN (2014). Malon. La rebelión del movimiento mapuche 1990-2013. Pehuen. ISBN 9789561606104.
  27. ^ Electricity generation capacity of Chile by Comisión Nacional de Energía
  28. ^ Lorenzo Nesti (2002). "The Mapuche-Pehuenche and the Ralco Dam on the Biobio River: The Challenge of Protecting Indigenous Land Rights". Int'l J. on Minority & Group Rights.
  29. ^ a b "Chile Rules Out Land Seizures to Satisfy Indian Demands". Latin American Herald Tribune. Retrieved 28 August 2009.
  30. ^ "Comuneros mapuche deponen huelga de hambre tras 87 días (In Spanish)". Bio Bio Chile. 9 June 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  31. ^ "Ratifican fallo absolutorio de Juzgado Militar en caso de mapuche condenados por ataque a fiscal (In Spanish)". Bio Bio Chile. 25 May 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  32. ^ Marcha por conmemoración de muerte de Matías Catrileo provoca incidentes en Santiago Centro, La Tercera, 3 January 2013. Retrieved on 4 April 2013.
  33. ^ Quema de camión en La Araucanía marca conmemoración de muerte de Matías Catrileo, La Tercera, 3 January 2013. Retrieved on 4 April 2013.
  34. ^ Fiscalía confirma muerte de dos personas en nuevo atentado incendiario a casa patronal en La Araucanía, La Tercera, 4 January 2013. Retrieved on 4 April 2013.
  35. ^ a b c Pericias indican que Werner Luchsinger y Vivian MacKay murieron por acción del fuego, El Mercurio, 23 March 2013. Retrieved on 4 April 2013.
  36. ^ a b Familia confirma que los fallecidos en ataque a casa patronal en La Araucanía son el matrimonio Luchsinger, La Tercera, 4 January 2013. Retrieved on 4 April 2013.
  37. ^ a b Se aplicará la Ley Antiterrorista contra los responsables del atentado en Collipulli, cnn.
  38. ^ Tren de carga sufrió descarrilamiento en Collipulli, Radio Cooperativa.
  39. ^ "Al menos 23 camiones incendiados en el Biobío y La Araucanía". Tele 13 (in Spanish). Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  40. ^ "Quema de camiones en La Araucanía y Biobío: Gobierno se querella por incendio terrorista". (in Spanish). Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  41. ^ Jesuitas, Misión Mapuche- (28 May 2009). "Misión Jesuita Mapuche: Noticias de Mayo..." Misión Jesuita Mapuche. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  42. ^ S.A.P., El Mercurio. "Carlos Bresciani, el jefe jesuita en la zona mapuche: "Lo que el Estado no hizo de derecho, las comunidades lo están haciendo de hecho"". (in Spanish). Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  43. ^ "Ñuke Mapu – Centro de Documentación Mapuche". Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  44. ^ Poblete, Kate Linthicum, Jorge (16 January 2018). "The long fight of the Mapuche people at times has turned violent. Pope Francis is about to get involved". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  45. ^ "Pope urges end to Chile Mapuche conflict". BBC News. 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  46. ^ Staff and agencies in Temuco (17 January 2018). "Pope wades into indigenous conflict telling Chile's Mapuche to shun violence". the Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  47. ^ "Son of Chile Indigenous leader killed in restive province". Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  48. ^ Chile, C. N. N. "Comité ONU: Suiza debe detener la deportación a Chile de mapuche por riesgo de sufrir tortura". CNN Chile (in Spanish). Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  49. ^ "Un carabinero herido con perdigones en brazo y rostro dejan enfrentamientos en provincia de Arauco". BioBioChile - La Red de Prensa Más Grande de Chile (in Spanish). 16 June 2021. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  50. ^ julio, Agencias6 de; 2021 - 12h05 (6 July 2021). "Sesión de constituyentes en Chile vuelve a suspenderse y el pedido de amnistía para 'presos políticos' sigue a la espera". El Universo (in Spanish). Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  51. ^ "Regional Overview: South America | 24–30 July 2021". 5 August 2021. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  52. ^ "Chile declares state of emergency over Mapuche conflict".
  53. ^ ""Lafkenche Mapuche Resistance" Claims Recent Sabotage Actions in Wallmapu". 25 December 2021.
  54. ^ "A Repressive Status Quo". NACLA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  55. ^ "OHCHR | UN experts urge Chile not to use anti-terrorism law against Mapuche indigenous peoples". Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  56. ^ "Chile must stop using anti-terrorism law against Mapuche indigenous group – UN expert". UN News. 31 July 2013. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  57. ^ a b c Encuesta Cadem