Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has announced a new plan to deepen land restitution to the country’s indigenous communities and better incorporate them into the political process.
The president made the announcement in a speech yesterday to commemorate Chile’s National Indigenous People's Day. Noting that nearly 25 years had passed since the country’s return to democracy, Bachelet said that even after five successive democratic administrations, the government “remains in debt to indigenous peoples.”
El Mercurio reports that the president did not provide specifics about her proposal, but that it included three main elements: creating a new institutional framework (including a new Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, a Council of Indigenous Peoples and a Council of Culture and Heritage), strengthening the government’s land restitution program, and granting indigenous communities greater representation in Congress.
Any eventual reform initiatives will not be unilateral. The government has signaled that it is entering into a six-month process of consultation with indigenous organizations. Restitution is sure to be an especially contentious issue. As La Tercera notes, the government has purchased and turned over land to indigenous communities since 1994, benefiting some 16, 000 families over the last twenty years. Still, many indigenous Chileans, especially Mapuche groups in the troubled Araucania region, are dissatisfied with the slow progress of this program.
While no concrete legislation has yet been presented, Bachelet’s speech offers the latest sign that her government is interested in moving indigenous rights forward in Chile. It comes in the wake of repeated promises by administration officials -- most recently before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva -- not to invoke a Pinochet-era terrorist law to prosecute Mapuche activists. It also follows up on her appointment of part-Mapuche politician Francisco Huenchumilla as the government’s top official in Araucania, and his historic apology to the Mapuche in March for over a century of land theft and displacement.
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