Mapuche protest in front of the cathedral of Concepción. Photo: Eduardo Chamorro Ramírez

Mapuche protest in front of the cathedral of Concepción. Photo: Eduardo Chamorro Ramírez

Natividad Llanquileo is a young woman from the Mapuche people, an indigenous group that makes up some 4 percent of the Chilean population. In late November, she visited Geneva – seat of the United Nations Human Rights Council and other UN bodies – to inform the international organizations about the ongoing negotiations between the representatives of the Mapuche political prisoners and the Chilean government.

Llanquileo is a member of the Puerto Choque community in Arauco province. She is only 26 years old and represents the next generation of the “diplomats” of the Mapuche people to the international organizations. She is also the youngest representative of the Mapuche prisoners in Concepción.

“My main aim with the international organizations in Geneva has been to make contact with observers who could help in the legal proceedings against the political prisoners whom the legal authorities in Chile have accused of terrorism,” Llanquileo said during a press conference on 26 November.   

The information session and press conference were held at Geneva's Ecumenical Centre, seat of the World Council of Churches (WCC) secretariat, on an invitation of the WCC Indigenous Peoples Programme and the Coordinating Group of Genevan Organizations supporting the Mapuche Prisoners on Hunger Strike.   

A hunger strike by Mapuche political prisoners that lasted from August to October failed to achieve their purposes as the attention of the national and international public was focused on the rescue efforts for 33 miners trapped below the Chilean dessert and the 200th anniversary of the country. Despite this situation, the Mapuche people managed to strengthen their local organizations and to denounce internationally the criminalization that their struggles for land and cultural rights are facing.

The process of dialogue with the Chilean government, which the Mapuche started after the end of the hunger strike, received the support of various church organizations, including the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and the WCC. The Methodist Mapuche pastor Hugo Marillan has been accompanying the negotiations on behalf of CLAI and WCC.

Llanquileo has played an important role in these negotiations, acting as a mouthpiece for the Mapuche political prisoners. At the press conference she recognized the important role of the churches and asked for their support through the introduction of international observers in denouncing the criminalization of the Mapuche struggles.

According to Llanquileo, the observers can gain a better overall view of the situation, as they receive information from all parties. They can thus perceive the contradictions of the prosecutors, the illegality in the presentation of the cases against the Mapuche prisoners, in having anonymous witnesses and other irregularities and forms of discrimination. “We cannot accept this continuing criminalization of the Mapuche people,” she said.   

A further aim of her visit has been to gain information on how international mechanisms function, “in particular the agreements concerning us that governments ratify but do not apply,” she declared.

“For example, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples has made several reports recommending that the anti-terrorism law should not be applied to the Mapuche people. The government’s response to the international forums is that it will do so, but in practice it does not implement the recommendations. The same has happened with the ILO agreement 169 which recognizes the Mapuche as a people having a right to their land and its resources, but it, too, is not put into practice.”      

This article is adapted from a text written by Alberto Dufey for the news portal Swisslatin. Click here to access the original article (in Spanish).

More information on the WCC Indigenous Peoples’ Programme