Urgent appeal for solidarity with Mapuche Indigenous people of Chile

May 14, 1997

Today, more than 500 Mapuche indigenous people have taken to the streets in Santiago, Chile on a march to protest continuing efforts by the Chilean government to deny them fundamental rights guaranteed under Chilean law. Motivating this historic protest are recent events involving not only actions by the Chilean government, but also involving the Indigenous Fund, a multilateral fund which is administered by the Inter-American Development Bank and other agencies, supposedly with democratic indigenous representation.

Brief background:

In late April, Chilean President Frei fired the Director of the National Commission on Indigenous Development (CONADI), Mauricio Huenchulaf. Huenchulaf had taken a strong position in support of the rights of Mapuches fighting the Ralco Dam on the Biobio River, which would submerge two Pehuenche villages, and other projects which would directly impact Chilean indigenous territories. He based his position upon guarantees of indigenous rights in Chile's Indigenous Peoples Law.

Mapuche leaders occupied the headquarters of CONADI and issued a statement calling Huenchulaf's sacking "the intervention and brutal destruction of an institution created to contribute to the protection and promotion of our rights, and which now has been converted into an obstacle to them, favoring instead the megaprojects of an authoritarian modernization which is leaving our country without a soul and without roots, which looks greedily at our few remaining ancestral territories".

Reacting to growing dissatisfaction by Chilean indigenous people, Chile's President Frei cancelled the conference of the Indigenous Peoples' Fund, an initiative to fund indigenous peoples' projects, in which Latin American governments, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other multilateral funding agencies participate, supposedly in partnership with indigenous peoples. The conference, which had been scheduled for Santiago, was moved to La Paz when Frei said that he could not guarantee the conference's security.

Mapuche leaders termed the moving of the conference "unjustified" and said it demonstrates that "(the fund) continues to be coordinated and directed by the governments without considering our opinions".

What you can do:

Write letters expressing solidarity with the Mapuche marchers, condemning recent actions by the Chilean government to steamroll the rights of Chilean indigenous peoples. Denounce the unjustified moving of the Indigenous Fund conference as a clear effort to deny Chilean indigenous people a voice.

Please send letters to:

Sr. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle,
Presidente de la Republica
Palacio de la Moneda, Santiago
Fax: (+56 2)690 4000 / 699 1657 / 698 4656 / 699 2233 /

Mr. Enrique Iglesias
President, Inter-American Development Bank
1300 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20577
Fax: (+1)202 623 3614

Please also send a copy to the Mapuche organizational headquarters in Temuco, Chile: tel/fax: (+56 45) 233 886

Sample Letter:

Dear President Frei:

We are writing to express our solidarity with the march of Mapuche indigenous people and to manifest our indignation at recent actions by the Chilean government to deny Chilean indigenous peoples their rights as guaranteed under Chile's Indigenous law. The firing of Mauricio Huenchulaf as head of CONADI, and actions taken to promote Ralco Dam, the Truf Truf bypass and other roads affecting indigenous territories, destruction of Chile's forests in indigenous territories, and mining projects on indigenous land demonstrate your government's aggressive disregard of indigenous rights.

Furthermore, we denounce the unjustified moving of the conference of the Indigenous Fund from Santiago as a clear effort on your part to silence indigenous opposition to your policies at an important international forum.

We urge you to reconsider your blatant disrespect for the rights of Chile's indigenous peoples.