Chile’s Bicentennial: Mapuche Resistance Amid the Celebrations



AS CHILE CELEBRATED ITS BICENTENNIAL last weekend, more than 30 political prisoners of the indigenous Mapuche entered the 73rd day of a hunger strike. The Mapuche prisoners want to call attention to their struggle for land rights and bring an end to anti-terrorism laws used to criminalize them.

The Chilean government seems to be taking notice: President Sebastián Piñera offered a dialogue and pledged to invest $4 billion in the Araucania region. Meanwhile, four Congressional members of Chile’s opposition parties joined in solidarity with the prisoners.

Piñera is on a media blitz lately, chatting up Chile’s rising currency and plans for recovery after the February earthquake.

You can always count on Chile to project a strong democracy and stable economy, no matter what the circumstances below the surface. This is an opportunity for Piñera’s young administration to right some wrongs of the past. But the biggest story on people’s minds still seems to be the rescue of the trapped miners.

At least one Chilean artist, Guillo, cuts through it all and gets to heart of the matter, with his take on the word “unity” (“Unidad”):



For more response on what citizens and activists are doing to call attention to the Mapuche struggle, see this photo essay about a demonstration in Santiago, Chile, published by user-generated news site Demotix.

Chile: A Short Guide to Indigenous Mapuche Poets

The Mapuche nation flag.

THE MAPUCHE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE of southern Chile represent the largest ethnic group in the country. Today, despite the introduction of the Indigenous Law in 1993, <a href="Mapuche lands remain vulnerable to development.

Contemporary poets compose in their native Mapudungun and Spanish. Here is a sample of two of the leading Mapuche poets writing today, Graciela Huinao and Jaime Luis Huenón:

    Graciela Huinao

in the blue nights of the South
the agonizing vegetable song
of the Nawel buta
reaches my door.
I don’t know if it is
when he shakes his branches
in protest
because they have torn out his eyes
or in the moment
in which he bleeds empty the rivers
because of the cutting
of his arms.
My soul breaks
in an anguished song of Pewen (2)
and ancient voices
reach my door
but only I
understand their language
that cold with fear
glides through the jungle
to die in it.
While in my eyes
the last stars

(1) (Big tiger). Mountain chain near Temuco.
(2) The Araucaria tree.

    Jaime Luis Huenón

I got off in the fog of Port Trakl,
searching for the Bar of Good Fortune
to chat about my trip.
But everyone was mesmerized by the polar stars in their drinks,
silent like the sea off a desert island.
I went out to roam the red-lit streets.
Perfumed and bored women, selling their tired bodies.
«In Port Trakl poets come to die», they said,
smiling in all the languages of the world.
I gave them poems I planned to take to my grave
as proof of my time on Earth.

Translation by Daniel Borzutzky

Four Mapuche Poets: An Anthology collects the work of Huinao, Huenón, Elicura Chihuailaf, and Leonel Lienlaf.