Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Mapuche People Struggle to Keep Their Traditional Lifeways


The Mapuche people of southern Chile have long struggled to remain a distinct cultural group in the face of constant pressure. The few news items on this indigenous group are almost always linked to repression, destruction of their traditional lifeways, or some action taken by the Chilean government to displace the Mapuche people. Despite this, they continue to resist the forces of colonialism and globalizm. However, timber and hydroelectric multinationals have been increasingly exploiting their traditional homeland, making it harder and harder to maintain traditional lifeway patterns.

Recently logging companies have become more aggressive as they have continued to push their way into Mapuche traditional territory. As a result, a bitter clash has arisen, whereby some Mapuche have been labeled "terrorists" by the Chilean government for defending their homeland. As Hector Llaitul, a Mapuche member, noted in a recent Center for International Policy Report "The Mininco Company along with one of our main adversaries, the hydroelectric company ENDESA, have changed their policy. It's no longer just the use of violence. They are diversifying the repression: they study the areas where they operate and develop plans (for publicity, courses, etc.) tailored to each one, often financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, in order to create a security rim around their properties. They arm small farmers and hunting and fishing clubs, so they can form vigilance committees, which are legal in Chile, to defend themselves against 'bad neighbors.' This is how they try to isolate the people who struggle."

Wait, what did I just read, the logging and hydroelectric companies are manipulating the media and others in the area to gain support and further repress the Mapuche? Sounds like standard business to me.

There are two major issues with globalization that this little snippet highlights. 1) The world is getting smaller, companies that only worked in one country are now working all over the globe. People in southern Chile are feeling the pressure of companies whose products are shipped to Europe or America. Furthermore, many of these same companies are owned (wholly or partially) by Americans, Europeans, and other well-to-do individuals. 2) These multinational companies are resourceful in a multitude of ways. They hire local people to set up dummy organizations so that it appears the company is locally based. They conduct media campaigns to convince consumers that they are environmentally friendly, sustainably extracting resources, working with local populations, and in general conducting all around good business.

Well, for the Mapuche indigenous peoples this is causing great destruction. Sure, for those city dwellers in Santiago, the logging companies and hydroelectric companies may seem fairly benign. Likewise, us Americans - who love our large cars built out of Chilean steel, our Chilean strawberries in the winter, and the beautiful shots of Patagonian wilderness - can only really guess at the destructive forces our habits have. Well, think of this: every time you bite into your strawberries this winter after a long drive back from the ski slopes in your SUV, remember that there is a Mapuche family displaced from their homeland because of your actions (for a good discussion of the problem with eating strawberries in the winter, check out Omnivore's Dilemma).

Shall I set the picture further? Arriving in Concepción, located 500 km south of Santiago the landscape abruptly changes. The narrow valley between the Andean mountain range and the Pacific is planted with the fruit orchards (strawberries anyone?) that make Chile an important agricultural exporter. Timber covers the local hills and mountains; highways turn into paths that snake upward and get lost among pine trees. Then suddenly, a dense white cloud of smoke announces a paper mill, surrounded by immense, extensive green farmland.

Lucio Cuenca, coordinator of the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), explains that the timber sector grows at an annual rate of over 6%. "Between 1975 and 1994 timberland increased by 57%," he adds. The timber and logging sector accounts for more than 10% of exports, with half sent to countries in Asia. More than two million hectares [five million acres] of tree farms are concentrated in Regions V and X, traditional Mapuche lands. Pine comprises 75%, eucalyptus, 17%. "But almost 60% of planted areas are in the hands of three economic
groups," says Cuenca.

These economic groups include Celulosa Arauco, Celulosa Constitución, Forestal Arauco, Inforsa, Masisa, and Compañía Manufacturera de Papeles y Cartones. On top of this, Chile's timber industry is now in the hands of two large national business groups led by Anacleto Angelini and Eleodoro Matte. In the rest of the continent the industry is in the hands of large European or U.S. multinationals. However, the owners' nationality is much less relevant than the high degree of concentration. In Chile, only 7.5% of timberland is owned by small landowners, while 66% belongs to large owners with at least a thousand planted hectares [2,500 acres]. The Angelini group, for example, has 765,000 hectares [1.9 million acres], and the Matte group's property exceeds half a million [1.25 million acres].

These numbers are sobering. For the Mapuche, timber expansion means their destruction as a distinct cultural people. Each year expanding timber production absorbs some additional 50,000 hectares [125,000 acres]. On top of feeling literally drowned by the tree plantations, the Mapuche are beginning to experience water shortages, changes in the flora and fauna, and the rapid disappearance of native woodland. A report by Chile's Central Bank confirms that in 25 years Chile will have NO NATIVE FOREST left! However, everything indicates that timber expansion is unstoppable.

Pretty bleak picture. Sadly, this picture is largely OUR fault. As one country progresses in terms of material wealth and material consumption, another must fall. What can we do? Well, there are many multinationals working in Chile that are run by American or European bodies. You could avoid their products, their stocks, and their media campaigns that get you to consume, consume, consume (remember, even if it is recycled, eco-friendly consumption, it is still consumption and hurts someone, somewhere). The usual suspects are there: HP, Reuters, JP Morgan, Intel, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestle, Kodak, BHP Billiton, IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, Ford, Yahoo, and many more. However, there are also some that you may not know of: Banco Bilbao Vizacaya Argentaria, Chile; Banco Santander; ChileSat Corp S.A.; Compania de Telecomunicaciones de Chile; Cristalerias de Chile; Distribucion Y Servicio D&S; Embotelladora Andina S.A.; Empresa Nacional de Electricidad S.A. and many more. Why do I mention these "Chilean" companies when I was originally talking about American or European companies working in Chile? Well, the ones listed above, plus many more, are all listed on the New York Stock Exchange. That's right, they are directly tied into the American economy and your ability to get a good mortgage on your second home, your ability to buy cheap books, and your ability to eat strawberries in winter.

So, what does all this mean? Am I making a point in this post? I think so, and here it is. The Mapuche people are in a losing battle right now. It's the standard David and Goliath story: a small indigenous group against the giant multinational company. But thanks to globalization (this is the positive side of the globalization debate), the consumer can now play a part (we are the stone in the story). Do we let David throw the stone, allowing it to bounce off the giant body of Goliath? Or do we become consciously aware of our consuming habits and direct the stone at Goliaths eye? The decision is yours, but if you chose the latter, then perhaps the old biblical story will continue to have merit.

I guess no strawberries for me this winter (but atleast I can sleep soundly).

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1 comment:

knicksgrl0917 said...

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