SANTIAGO – The Chilean government said Friday that it is not ready to contemplate expropriating land in the southern region of Araucania to restore lost ancestral territory to the Mapuche Indians.
“We hope we don’t have to resort to that, because the system of expropriation is very complicated and that would not accelerate the process of buying land,” government spokeswoman Carolina Toha told ADN radio.
Buying land and handing it over to Mapuche communities is a central part of President Michelle Bachelet’s policy for resolving the increasingly heated conflict between Indians and farmers and lumber firms in Araucania.
But since last year, when the government set out to buy land for use by 115 Mapuche communities, the current owners have nearly tripled the prices they are demanding, officials in Santiago say.
“We think there are other tools we can use without the necessity yet of resorting to the system of expropriation, to generate a dynamic to bring the prices down,” Toha said.
She acknowledged that last week’s death of Mapuche activist Jaime Mendoza Collio at the hands of police has made the situation in Araucania more difficult.
In recent days, official sources have suggested the government is considering a massive land purchase as a way of forcing down prices.
“If we had a more open system, where those who are selling realize that if they ask too high a price (the government) will prefer their neighbor, that would probably create a different dynamic,” the spokeswoman said.
The Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous group with slightly more than 600,000 members, demand the constitutional recognition of their tribal identity, rights and culture, as well as ownership of the lands that belonged to their ancestors.
The government has mapped out a plan to purchase land and deliver it to communal landholders, but the process has gotten bogged down and more radical Indian protesters have resorted to violence as a pressure tactic.
Authorities have prosecuted violent Indian protesters under the country’s dictatorship-era Anti-Terrorism Law, which expands police and judicial powers, while the Chilean right claims – though thus far without concrete evidence – that foreign groups are behind the most violent Mapuche protests. EFE