SANTIAGO – A group of residents on Easter Island on the weekend occupied the local airport to demand “better immigration control,” the Chilean press reported on Sunday.
The demonstrators, who up until Sunday they had not impeded air traffic and remained stationed along the side of a runway, said they were staging their protest so that controls would be put in place to prevent Chileans from the mainland or foreigners from continuing to arrive to settle permanently on the island, which is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, some 3,600 kilometers (2,230 miles) from the Chilean coast.
The demonstrators include about 20 members of the Rapa Nui Parliament Movement, which island authorities say is a minority of the local residents who favor independence from Chile, which annexed the island in 1888 as a special territory.
The protesters also want the government to establish an “Immigration Council” and a “Rapa Nui residence regime,” as they discuss in a letter they say they intend to send to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
Island Gov. Carolina Hotus Hey told the daily El Mercurio that the demonstrators have maintained a peaceful demeanor and therefore she ruled out asking the police to remove them from their protest site.
“They are staying in a small sector of the runway and even asked permission to set up a tent,” said the governor, adding that their demands cannot be met given that island authorities cannot prevent other Chileans from coming to the island to live.
Hotus Hey said that part of the protesters’ discontent stems from the fact that during the building of a new hotel some time back certain “people with black marks on their papers” – that is to say, people with criminal records – were among the construction workers shipped in from the mainland for the task.
Alberto Hotus, the president of the “Council of Elders” and the highest traditional authority on Easter Island, said that the demonstrators “are a minority group of troublemakers who, behind the scenes, are working for independence for the island.”
He added, however, that the group has no political representation and that the Council of Elders, whose position is known to Bachelet, “will not permit acts of terrorism or sedition,” and if they occur it will ask the public security force to expel the demonstrators.
Easter Island is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited areas and is famous for its monumental stone statues created by the Rapanui people. It has been designated a World Heritage Site and much of the island is protected within the Rapa Nui National Park.
According to the 2002 census, the island’s population at that time was just a little under 3,800.