Chilean President Michelle Bachelet started a consultation with representatives of Chile’s indigenous communities on October 16 ahead of plans to change the constitution. The discussion comes amid tensions over government prosecution of Mapuche activists under anti-terrorism laws in the lead-up to the presidential election in November.
The talks are between the Chilean government and 139 delegates representing nine indigenous groups to consult on changes desired by the native peoples. The meeting is meant to comply with Agreement 169 of the International Labor Organization, which asks that governments consult with different ethnic groups in their country on administrative or legislative changes that could directly affect them.
The Mapuche, the largest indigenous group in Chile, are engaged in protests over land claims in the Aracaunia Region of Chile as well as Argentina’s neighboring Chubut Province. The Mapuche are seeking to regain land taken from them during Chile’s southern expansion in the 19th century. The land is now under private ownership.
The government has arrested a number of indigenous activists in connection with crimes including arson in Aracaunia. Preventative detention, a measure from a Pinochet-era anti-terror bill, is the mechanism used to detain most of these activists, four of whom recently concluded a 118-day hunger strike after the government agreed not to apply the terror legislation to their specific case.
Frontrunner and former-President Sebastian Piñera of the center-right Chile Vamos Coalition argued that the Mapuche actions fell under the definition of terrorism, while his main opponents, Alejandro Guillier of the center-left Nueva Mayoría Party and Beatriz Sánchez of the left-wing Frente Amplio Party, have both agreed not to use the anti-terror legislation to prosecute these cases.
Proposed solutions to the conflict with the Mapuche activists have ranged from deploying the military in Aracaunia to providing economic stimulus to the region, but no major candidate has pledged to meet their demands for land reform. Mapuche land restoration demands have grown since Chile’s return to democracy, but the government’s unwillingness to satisfy them means that this conflict is likely to remain unresolved before the November elections.